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In the next few posts, this blog will be covering the detailed results of the May 22-25 European Parliament (EP) election in the 28 member-states of the EU. As was argued in my introductory overview, the reality of EP elections is that they are largely fought and decided over national issues and the dynamics of EP elections are similar to those of midterm elections in the US. The results of this year’s EP elections, despite the EU’s attempts to create the narrative of a pan-European contest with ‘presidential candidates’ for the presidency of the Commission, confirmed that this is still the case. Turnout remained flat across the EU, and while some pan-European trends are discernible – largely an anti-incumbent swing which is nothing new or unusual in EP elections, with a secondary swing to anti-establishment Eurosceptic parties in most but not all member-states – the fact of the matter is that the changes in the makeup and strength of the parliamentary groups in the new EP owe to individual domestic political dynamics in the 28 member-states.
These posts will likely come in alphabetical order. Some countries will be covered by guest posters who have generously accepted to help out in this big task, contributing some local expertise.
These posts do not include, generally, descriptions of each party’s ideology and nature. For more information on parties, please refer to older posts I may have written on these countries on this blog or some excellent pre-election guides by Chris Terry on DemSoc.
In this first post, the results in countries from Austria to Finland.
Turnout: 45.39% (-0.58%)
MEPs: 18 (-1)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 4% threshold (national constituency)
ÖVP (EPP) 26.98% (-3%) winning 5 seats (-1)
SPÖ (S&D) 24.09% (+0.35%) winning 5 seats (nc)
FPÖ (NI/EAF) 19.72% (+7.01%) winning 4 seats (+2)
Greens (G-EFA) 14.52% (+4.59%) winning 2 seats (+1)
NEOS (ALDE) 8.14% (+8.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
EU-STOP 2.76% (+2.76%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Europa Anders (GUE-NGL) 2.14% (+2.14%) winning 0 seats (nc)
REKOS (NI/MELD) 1.18% (+1.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)
BZÖ (NI) 0.47% (-4.11%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Austria’s two traditional parties of government – the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) both performed relatively poorly, in line with the general long-term trend of Austrian politics since 2006 or the 1990s. The last national elections in September 2013 ultimately saw the reelection of Chancellor Werner Faymann’s SPÖ-ÖVP Grand Coalition, although both the SPÖ and ÖVP continued their downwards trend and suffered loses, hitting new all-time lows of 26.8% and 24% respectively. The SPÖ and ÖVP, having dominated and controlled Austrian politics for nearly the entire post-war period, have gradually seen their support diminish considerably from the days of the stable two-party system which existed until the late 1980s. The ‘Proporz’ power-sharing system – the division of posts in the public sector, parastatals and government between the two major parties in the context of a pillarized political system – eroded ideological differences and created a fairly corrupt and nepotistic system of patronage and political immobilism. Austria’s economy is doing fairly well and the country is a haven of stability, but there’s no great love for its government. The SPÖVP Grand Coalition, which has governed Austria since 2006, could perhaps best be described as ‘boring’ – a stable, consensual and moderate government which ‘stays the course’ with rather prudent economic policies (mixing austerity and Keynesian job-creation incentives) and a pro-European outlook. There have been controversies and scandals to weaken the governing parties’ support and make them vulnerable to anti-corruption politics, but no crippling scandals. In turn, that means that it can be described by critics as ineffective, stale and unresponsive to voters’ concerns.
Four parties benefited from the SPÖVP’s relative unpopularity in 2013. Two old ones: Heinz-Christian Strache’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), a strongly Eurosceptic and anti-immigration populist party with a strong ‘social’ rhetoric advocating both interventionist and neoliberal economic policies (tax relief, rent reduction, higher minimum wage, millionaires’ tax, more generous pensions, tax breaks for SMEs, tax cuts for the poorest bracket, reducing bureaucracy); and the Greens, a left-wing party focused on environmental questions and government ethics. Two new ones: NEOS, a new pro-European right-leaning liberal party founded by a former ÖVP member in 2012, which has taken strongly pro-European (federalist) views combined with fairly right-wing liberal economic stances (tax cuts, a flatter tax system, pension reform, reducing bureaucracy, macroeconomic stability); and Team Stronach, a populist Eurosceptic (anti-Euro) right-wing (liberal to libertarian economic views) party founded by Austrian-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach. The FPÖ won 20.5%, the Greens won 12.4%, Stronach won 5.7% and NEOS surprised everybody by winning 5% (taking 9 seats). The FPÖ was decimated by its participation in the controversial black-blue government with the ÖVP between 1998 and 2005, and further weakened by the FPÖ’s famous leader Jörg Haider walking out of the party to create the BZÖ in 2005. But since 2006, it has gradually recovered lost strength, regaining its traditional anti-establishment, anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric and base of protest voters. In the 2013 election, the BZÖ lost all its seats, having been fatally wounded by Haider’s death in a car crash in 2008 (a short while after Haider’s BZÖ had won 11% at the polls in 2008) and infighting after his death. Since the 2013 election, Stronach’s party has, for all intents and purposes, died off: the party’s underwhelming showing at the polls in September 2013 led to internal dissent against the boss (Stronach) while Stronach lost interest in his pet project. Stronach has since gone back to Canada, leaving his party’s weak caucus to fend for itself without their boss and his money. The party barely polls 1% in the polls, and it decided not to run in the European elections or a state election in Vorarlberg later this year.
The SPÖ and ÖVP, under Chancellor Faymann and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger, renewed their coalition for a third successive term with basically the same policy agenda and dropping the contentious points on their platforms which the other party disagreed with. This was greeted with disinterest or opposition by the public, and Strache’s FPÖ has continued climbing in polls. The far-right, ironically one might add, has seemingly cashed in on the Hypo Group Alpe Adria bank troubles. The bank, owned by Haider’s far-right Carinthian government until 2007, has been at the heart of a large scandal involving bad loans, kickbacks to politicians and a banking expansion gone terribly wrong. The bank was sold by the Carinthian government to a Bavarian bank in 2007, before the Austrian federal government nationalized it in 2009. The embattled lender has required the federal government to pump out large sums of bailout money (taxpayers’ money) to prop it up, and the situation has barely improved. In February 2014, the SPÖVP government decided to set up a bad bank, transferring €19 billion of troubled assets to wind it down fully. Austrians have already paid about €5 billion to help the bank, and the majority of voters want to bank to go bankrupt rather than footing the costs of winding it down (the government’s plan would increase, albeit temporarily, the debt and deficit). Although many agree that it was Carinthia’s FPÖ government which created the Hypo mess in the first place, the FPÖ’s support increased in the polls this spring when the bank was a top issue. The FPÖ is generally first or second in national opinion polls, polling up to 26-27% while the ÖVP and SPÖ are in the low 20s.
EP elections are, however, a different matter. In the last few elections, the ÖVP has generally done better than in national polls and the FPÖ hasn’t done as well. In 2004 and 2009, the FPÖ was weakened by competition from the Martin List – an ideologically undefined anti-corruption and soft Euro-critical movement led by ex-SPÖ MEP Hans-Peter Martin, who won 14% in 2004 and 17.7% in 2009 (electing 2 and 3 MEPs respectively). Since 2009, Martin lost his two other MEPs – one joined the ALDE and ran for reelection as the right-liberal BZÖ’s top-candidate while the other ran as the top candidate for the European Left-aligned Europa Anders alliance (made up of the Pirate Party and the Communist Party), and his personal transparency and probity has been called into question. Martin, polling only 3%, did not run for reelection. The FPÖ was drawn into a significant crisis when Andreas Mölzer, MEP and top candidate from the FPÖ’s traditionalist far-right and pan-German wing, commented at a round-table that the Nazi Third Reich was liberal and informal compared to the ‘EU dictatorship’ and called the EU a ‘negro/nigger conglomerate’ (negrokonglomerat). Mölzer apologized for the ‘nigger’ comments but did not back down on the Third Reich comparison, and Strache initially accepted his apology. But there was strong political pressure from other Austrian politicians and parts of the FPÖ for Mölzer to step down as FPÖ top candidate, which he did on April 8. Harald Vilimsky, an FPÖ MP close to Strache, replaced him. Ironically, on April 8, the BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider – the daughter of the late Carinthian governor – stepped down as the party’s top candidate. The FPÖ’s support in polls declined from 20-23% to 18-20% following the mini-scandal, before climbing back up to 20-21%.
The ÖVP, led by incumbent MEP and EP vice-president Othmar Karas, topped the poll with 27% of the vote, a result down 3% on the ÖVP’s fairly strong showing in 2009 (30%) and costing the party one seat in the EP. The SPÖ, which had performed very poorly in 2009 with only 23.7% (a result down nearly 10 points from 2004), barely improved its totals, taking a paltry 24.1%. In all, both coalition parties performed poorly at the polls. For the ÖVP, however, it was a strong performance compared to what it’s been polling in national polls – it has gotten horrendous results, barely over 20% and down to 18% in some polls; its leader, Vice Chancellor and finance minister Michael Spindelegger, even manages the relatively rare feat of being more disliked than the far-right’s leader. The ÖVP has been bleeding support to NEOS, the new right-wing liberal party which is attractive to ÖVP voters in their leader’s home-state of Vorarlberg but also high-income, well-educated urban centre-right voters. From 5% in 2013, NEOS has been polling up to 13-14% – the same range as the Greens.
The ÖVP’s stronger performance in the EP elections likely owes mostly to turnout. The ÖVP’s increasingly elderly and fairly rural electorate is far more likely to turn out in the EP election than the FPÖ’s potentially large but also fickle electorate of anti-EU protest voters who have lower turnout in low-stakes elections such as EP elections (and there was not much to mobilize a protest electorate to vote in an EP election this year). The turnout map shows the heaviest turnout from the rural Catholic ÖVP strongholds in Lower Austria (the Waldviertel and Mostviertel regions of the state are some of the strongest ÖVP regions in Austria, with the conservative party taking about 40% there this year), although turnout was also high in the traditionally Socialist state of Burgenland and SPÖ-leaning areas in Lower Austria’s Industrieviertel. In Vienna, the conservative-leaning districts had higher turnout than the working-class SPÖ/FPÖ battleground boroughs (53.7% turnout in ÖVP-leaning Hietzing and 34.8% turnout in the working-class district of Simmering).
SORA’s exit poll/post-election analysis showed an electorate which was more pro-EU than non-voters: 35% of voters expressed ‘confidence’ in the EU while only 18% of non-voters did so; 28% of voters expressed ‘anger’ in the EU compared to 35% of non-voters while an additional 19% of non-voters were indifferent towards the EU. 15% of non-voters thought the country should leave the EU; only 9% of actual voters thought likewise. Consider, on top of that, that of voters opposed to the EU, a full 60% supported the FPÖ while only 4% of pro-EU voters backed the far-right party. The FPÖ’s electorate is quasi-exclusively anti-EU/Eurosceptical, but it is this electorate which had the lowest turnout on May 25. As such, it is hard to consider this EP election as being an accurate portrayal of where public opinion/voting intentions for the next election stands at the moment.
Nevertheless, the FPÖ won a strong result, although it falls below the party’s 2013 result and falls far short of the FPÖ’s records in the 1996 and 1999 EP elections (27.5% and 23.4% respectively). The FPÖ gained about 7% from the 2009 election. According to SORA’s voter flow analysis, the FPÖ gained 26% of the 2009 Martin vote (130,000 votes), a quarter of the 2009 BZÖ vote (33,000) and 3% of 2009 non-voters (a still hefty 99,000 votes). It held 64% of its own vote from 2009, losing about 16% of its voters from five years ago to abstention and about 15k each to the ÖVP, SPÖ, Greens, NEOS and other parties. Geographically, the FPÖ performed best in Styria, placing a close second with 24.2% against 25.3% for the ÖVP – the FPÖ had won the state, where the state SPÖVP government is unpopular, in the 2013 elections. Unlike in the 2013 election, the FPÖ did fairly poorly in Graz (17.9%) but retained strong support in other regions of the state – both the conservative and rural southern half and the industrial SPÖ bastions of Upper Styria. In Carinthia, the FPÖ won 20.2%, gaining 13.5% since 2009, but not fully capitalizing on the BZÖ’s collapse in the old Haider stronghold – the BZÖ vote in the state fell by 19.6%, to a mere 1.4%. The SPÖ made strong gains in Carinthia, continuing the trend from the 2013 state and federal elections, winning 32.8% (+7.4%). In Vienna, the FPÖ won 18.2%, compared to 20.6% in 2013. Its best district remained the ethnically diverse and working-class Simmering, where the far-right party won 28.7% against 35.8% for the SPÖ.
The Greens performed surprisingly well, taking 14.5%, slightly better than the 12-13% they had received in EP polling. Since the 2009 election, the Greens have gained votes from non-voters (65k, 2%), Martin’s list (54k, 11%), the ÖVP (40k, 5% and the SPÖ (36k, 5%). These gains compensated for some fairly significant loses to NEOS, which took 12% of the Greens’ 2009 electorate (a trend observed in 2013) and to abstention, with 7% of the Greens’ 2009 supporters not turning out this year. The Greens performed best in Vorarlberg (23.3%, topping the polls in the districts of Feldkirch and Dornbirn) and Vienna (20.9%, topping the poll in their traditional strongholds in the central ‘bobo’ districts but also extending into gentrifying districts such as Hernals), and they were the largest party in the cities of Graz and Innsbruck.
Once again, the Greens’ support decreases with age (26% with those under 29, the SPÖ and ÖVP placed third and fifth respectively), increases with higher levels of education (31% with those with a university degree) and was at its highest with young females (32% with women under 29). There is a massive gender gap between young males and females; the former being the FPÖ’s prime clientele (33%) while the latter are left-leaning and liberal (only 16% for the FPÖ). The SPÖ and ÖVP, the two old parties, have been polling horribly with young voters, who prefer the fresher alternatives of the FPÖ (especially unemployed or blue-collar young males in demographically stagnant or declining areas, with low levels of qualification) or the Greens/NEOS (young, well-educated women and men with high qualifications in cosmopolitan urban areas and college towns). The SPÖ and ÖVP electorates are disproportionately made up of pensioners/seniors – the two parties won 34% and 35% of pensioners’ votes respectively.
NEOS, on the other hand, had a rather underwhelming performance: with 8.1% of the vote, the new liberal party on an upswing since 2013, only managed to win one MEP rather than the two they might have won if they matched their early polling numbers (12-14%). In the last stretch of the campaign, however, NEOS’ support fell to 10-11%, likely feeling the results of an ÖVP and Green offensive against the ‘NEOS threat’ – the Greens trying to depict NEOS as a right-wing liberal party. The party’s stances in favour of water privatization, waste management privatization and European federalism, which are unpopular topics in Austria, may have hurt them. Weak turnout with young voters, NEOS’ strongest electorate, may also have hurt them. NEOS polled best in Vorarlberg, where the party’s leader is from (14.9%) and Vienna (9.1%); in general, NEOS has urban support, largely from the same places where the Greens or the ÖVP find support (well-educated, younger, and middle-class professional inner cities). Demographically, NEOS’ support decreased with age (15% with those under 29) and generally increased with higher levels of education.
The BZÖ saw its support evaporate entirely, even in its former Carinthian stronghold. The party suffered from major infighting following Haider’s death, and the remnants of the party shifted to a right-wing liberal/libertarian and Eurosceptic platform which was a major flop in the 2013 elections. The BZÖ’s sole MEP, Ewald Stadler, from the far-right Haiderite/traditionalist wing of the party, was expelled from the party in 2013 after criticizing the right-liberal shift and the party’s 2013 campaign. He ran for reelection for The Reform Conservatives (REKOS), which won 1.2%. The BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider, withdrew, and was replaced by Angelika Werthmann, an ex-Martin and ex-ALDE MEP. At this point, the BZÖ is likely to fully die off and disband.
On the left, the Austrian Pirates and Communists, which won only 0.8% and 1% in 2013, united to form an electoral coalition allied to the European Left, Europa Anders, led by Martin Ehrenhauser, an ex-Martin MEP. They managed a fairly respectable 2.1% of the vote.
Martin’s 2009 vote flowed mostly to the FPÖ (26%) and abstention (25%), but the SPÖ, ÖVP and Greens each received 11% of Martin’s 2009 vote and NEOS got 9% of them.
Turnout: 90.39% (+0.75%) – mandatory voting enforced
MEPs: 21 (-1) – 12 Dutch-speaking college (Flanders), 8 French-speaking college (Wallonia) and 1 German-speaking college (German Community); voters in Brussels-Capital and six municipalities with language facilities may choose between the Dutch and French colleges
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (no threshold) in 2 colleges, FPTP in the German-speaking college
N-VA (G-EFA > ?) 26.67% (+16.79%) winning 4 seats (+3)
Open Vld (ALDE) 20.4% (-0.16%) winning 3 seats (nc)
CD&V (EPP) 19.96% (-3.3%) winning 2 seats (-1)
sp.a (PES) 13.18% (-0.03%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Groen (G-EFA) 10.62% (+2.72%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Vlaams Belang (NI/EAF) 6.76% (-9.11%) winning 1 seat (-1)
PvdA+ 2.4% (+1.42%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PS (PES) 29.28% (+0.19%) winning 3 seats (nc)
MR (ALDE) 27.1% (+1.05%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 11.69% (-11.19%) winning 1 seat (-1)
cdH (EPP) 11.36% (-1.98%) winning 1 seat (nc)
PP 5.98% (+5.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB-GO! 5.48% (+4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDF 3.39% (+3.39%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Debout les Belges! 2.98% (+2.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
La Droite 1.59% (+1.59%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.14% (-6.34%) winning 0 seats (nc)
CSP (EPP) 30.36% (-1.89%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 16.66% (+1.08%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PFF (ALDE) 16.05% (-4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SP (PES) 15.11% (+0.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ProDG (EFA) 13.22% (+3.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Vivant 8.61% (+2.36%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The Belgian EP, federal and regional elections will be covered in a dedicated guest post.
Turnout: 36.15% (-1.34%)
MEPs: 17 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, Hare quota threshold approx 5.9% (national constituency)
GERB (EPP) 30.4% (+6.04%) winning 6 seats (+1)
Coalition for Bulgaria-BSP (PES) 18.93% (+0.43%) winning 4 seats (nc)
DPS (ALDE) 17.27% (+3.13%) winning 4 seats (+1)
Bulgaria Without Censorship 10.66% (+10.66%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Reformist Bloc (EPP) 6.45% (-1.5%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Alternative for Bulgarian Revival 4.02% (+4.02%) winning 0 seats (nc)
National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria 3.05% (+3.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Attack 2.96% (-9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Others 6.26% winning 0 seats (-2)
In an election marked by low turnout – the norm for EP elections in the new member-states – the right-wing opposition party, former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria), ‘won’ the election and gained another two seats in the EP. The political climate in Bulgaria is incredibly bleak, and the elections in May 2013 have changed little except the colour of the head of an increasingly discredited, corrupt, incredibly disconnected and largely incompetent political elite. In 2009, only a month after the EP elections, the GERB, a new right-wing anti-corruption and ostensibly pro-European party founded by Boyko Borisov, a flamboyant and burly wrestler/bodyguard/police chief-turned-politician (he was mayor of Sofia from 2005 to 2009), won the legislative elections in a landslide, handing the governing Socialist Party (BSP) a thumping (like all Bulgarian governments up to that point, it was defeated after one term in office). Borisov quickly became unpopular, for implementing harsh austerity measures which drastically cut the budget deficit but aggravated poverty in the EU’s poorest countries (it has the lowest HDI and the lowest average wage at €333), and for proving once again that Bulgarian politicians are all hopelessly corrupt whose electoral stances are gimmicks. Borisov had previously been accused of being directly linked to organized crime and major mobsters in Bulgaria; in government, he was accused of money laundering for criminal groups by way of his wife, who owns a large bank. His interior minister wiretapped political rivals, businessmen and journalists; the top anti-crime official, who was Borisov’s former campaign manager, was suspected of having received a bribe in 1999 in return for alerting mobsters of police interventions and having turned a blind eye to drug trafficking channels in the country. Borisov’s government fell following huge and violent protests (a few protesters self-immolated) in early 2013, sparked by popular anger at exorbitant utility prices (it was said that households would soon spend 100% of their monthly income on basic necessities) charged by corrupt monopolistic private firms; but they symbolized a wider lack of trust in politicians and institutions, exasperation at political corruption, the control of politics by corrupt oligarchs and mismanagement in both the public and private sectors. Borisov engineered his own resignation in pure populist fashion and called for snap elections, in which the GERB lost 19 seats and 9% but retained a plurality of seats. However, given a polarized and dirty political climate, Borisov was unable to form government.
The opposition BSP, which increased its support by about 9%, formed a minority government in coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), the party of the Turkish minority, and received conditional support from the far-right nationalist Attack party, notwithstanding the far-right’s traditional vicious anti-DPS and anti-Turkish rhetoric. Plamen Oresharski, a somewhat technocratic BSP figure (who had been a very right-wing finance minister under a past BSP government), became Prime Minister. But it was clear that the elections had changed little and that the new government was unfit to address the real challenges at hand: there remained a large discrepancy between the political elite and the citizenry, an ‘above’ vs. ‘below’ polarization rather than an ideological divide. The BSP is little different from the GERB; the left-wing rhetoric and orientation of the BSP is largely for show, because in power, from 2005 to 2009, the BSP government introduced a 10% flat tax (despite promising to amend it to make it progressive for some, the Oresharski government has keep it intact) and continued privatizations, while proving no less corrupt or incompetent than the right. Lo and behold, two weeks after Oresharski cobbled together his fragile government, major protests erupted in Sofia after the government nominated Delyan Peevski, a DPS MP and highly controversial and corrupt media mogul/oligarch, to head the secret service. Although officially owned by his mother, Peevski’s media group controls several high-circulation newspapers, TV channels and news websites which tend to be invariably pro-government while he is closely tied to Tsvetan Vassilev, the boss of a powerful bank which dispenses much of the investment for state-owned companies. Peevski is also a politician, having served as a deputy minister under a previous BSP government before he was fired and prosecuted (but later cleared) on extortion and corruption charges. The protests forced Oresharski to quickly revoke Peevski’s appointment, but the large protests, rallying tens of thousands of mostly young and/or middle-class protesters in Sofia organized through social media, continued in June and July. In late July, protesters laid siege to Parliament after MPs had approved a new debt emission without clarifying where 40% of the funds will go. Police brutally cracked down on protesters and bused the MPs out. The protests became a catch-all movement, calling for the resignation of the government, more transparency, less corruption, an end to the rule of oligarchs, cracking down on organized crime and more broadly rescuing Bulgaria from its dismal state. In late 2013, a report by the European Commission lamented the government’s inability to reform the slow and ineffective judiciary or fight corruption.
Protests have continued, but with lower turnout, marked by student sit-ins and campus occupations in October and January. Support for the protests apparently declined somewhat, with the BSP voicing concerns that the protests were partisan and that the GERB was seeking to seize control of the movement, although it does not appear that most protesters have been co-opted. Critics have attacked the middle-class background of the protesters, the strongly anti-communist and anti-leftist rhetoric of the protesters which has enabled the BSP to rally its supporters (in counter-protesters, allegedly paid) and perhaps some thinly-veiled anti-Turkish (DPS) sentiments. There has been some ‘protest fatigue’ setting in, with calls on the protesters to lay off and allow the government, although it may fall and be forced into snap elections at a moment’s notice, to prove itself. The government assures voters that it has a reformist platform, aimed at tackling corruption and improving living conditions and social benefits. However, at other times, the BSP has preferred to play political games, lashing out and pointing figures at the GERB, which retaliated with more politicking of its own.
A new party, Bulgaria Without Censorship (BBT), was founded in January 2014, led by former TV host Nikolay Barevok. BBT, which has allied with parties on the right and left, has a populist platform with promises to lock up corrupt politicians, work for ‘capitalism with a human face’ (Barekov has expressed nostalgia for the communist regime and criticized the effects of capitalism on the country) and an operation to audit the income and property of all Bulgarian politicians over the last 20 years. Barevok doesn’t come without baggage of his own – anti-corruption activists have asked questions about Barekov’s weight and there is the matter of his alleged connections to Peevski and Tsvetan Vassilev.
The GERB won the EP elections with a solid majority over the governing Coalition for Bulgaria, in which the BSP is the only relevant party. The party won 30.4%, very similar to its 2013 result, although its vote intake of 630.8k was far less than the 1.08 million votes the GERB won in 2013. The BSP coalition won 18.9%, a terrible showing similar to the 2009 EP election, when the BSP was also an unpopular governing party (then under Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, who was soundly defeated a month later). From 942.5k votes in 2013, the BSP fell to only 424,000 votes this year.
The DPS, the party representing the Turkish minority, did very well with 17.3% of the vote, and the DPS’ vote intake was 97% of what it had won in 2013, the best hold of any major party. The DPS performs well in low-turnout elections, such as EP elections – in 2009, the DPS had won 14.1% and, most spectacularly, came close to topping the poll in the low-turnout 2007 EP by-election, winning 20.3% in an election with 29% turnout. Turnout tends to be higher in the Turkish areas of the country, where the DPS has a renowned ability to mobilize its Turkish electorate using various legal and extra-legal means (it is often accused of ‘electoral tourism’, which leads to Turkish voters voting at home in Bulgaria before turning up to vote ‘abroad’ at consulates in Turkey; plus the vote buying and intimidation techniques used by all parties); the division of the ethnic Bulgarian vote between different parties also helps the DPS top the poll even in Turkish-minority areas. For example, in this election, the division of the vote and turnout dynamics likely explain why the DPS polled the most votes in Smolyan and Pazardzhik province (which are 91% and 84% Bulgarian respectively, but the DPS has strong support with religious Muslim Pomaks – Bulgarian Muslims, who may identify as Turks – in the western Rhodope). In Kardzhali province, which is two-thirds Turkish, the DPS won 70.2% of the vote; it also topped the poll in four provinces with a significant Turkish minority (or majority, in Razgrad province) in northern Bulgaria. Peevski was the DPS’ top candidate, but he has declined to take his seat as a MEP.
The new BBT won 10.7% of the vote. It may have benefited from the collapse of the far-right Attack (Ataka), which had received about 12% in 2009 (and 7.3% in 2013), but won only 3% of the vote this year. The far-right has likely been hurt by its support for the government – the association with the DPS doesn’t seem to bother them too much, and Attack’s leader Volen Siderov spilled lots of vitriol on the protesters. The far-right’s support had previously collapsed between 2009 and 2013, when Attack had unofficially supported Borisov’s government, before it used the anti-Borisov protests to save its parliamentary seats in 2013. The Reformist Bloc, a right-wing coalition made up of the old Union of Democratic Forces (SDS, Bulgaria’s governing party between 1991 and 1992 and 1997 to 2001), former SDS Prime Minister Ivan Kostov’s fan club (the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria) and former EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva’s centre-right personal vehicle (Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, which failed to get into Parliament in 2013), held one of their seats with 6.5% of the vote. Kuneva was the alliance’s top candidate.
Turnout: 25.24% (+4.5%)
MEPs: 11 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)
HDZ-HSS-HSP AS-BUZ (EPP/ECR) 41.42% (+8.56%) winning 6 seats (nc) [4 HDZ-EPP, 1 HSS-EPP, 1 HSP AS-ECR]
Kukuriku coalition (S&D/ALDE) 29.93% (-5.98%) winning 4 seats (-1) [3 SDP-S&D, 1 HNS LD-ALDE]
ORaH (G-EFA) 9.42% (+9.42%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Alliance for Croatia/HDSSB-HSP 6.88% (-0.07%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Labourists (GUE-NGL) 3.4% (-2.37%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Croatian Center/NF-HSLS-PGS 2.4% winning 0 seats
Others 6.55% winning 0 seats
Croatia is the EU’s newest member-state, having joined the Union on July 1 of last year – after two-thirds of voters had voted in favour of EU membership in January 2012 and three months after a by-election to elect Croatia’s 12 new MEPs (in which turnout was only 20%). Although there is no significant party which is openly anti-EU, there was little enthusiasm for joining the EU – certainly, joining the midst of the Eurozone crisis, there was none of that pomp which accompanied the EU’s Eastern enlargement in 2004. The Croatian economy has been performing poorly for nearly five years now – in fact, Croatia has been in recession for five years in a row, since the GDP plunged by nearly 7% in 2009. GDP growth is projected to remain negative in 2014, at -0.6%, although Croatia is expected to finally grow out of recession next year. Unemployment has soared from 9% when the recession began to about 17-20% today, with little relief expected in the next few years. The country’s public debt has increased from 36% to nearly 65% of the GDP. Croatia was initially hurt by the collapse of its exports to the rest of the EU with the global recession in 2009-2010, and many argue that the crisis has been so painful in Croatia because of the government’s reluctance to adopt structural reforms to reduce the country’s high tax rates, boost consumption, reducing tax revenues, downsize a large and costly public sector and restrictive monetary policies. Nevertheless, since 2009, two successive Croatian governments – from the right and left of the spectrum – have adopted similar austerity measures which have been deeply unpopular with voters and unconvincing for investors.
Between 2003 and 2011, Croatia was ruled by a centre-right coalition led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Franjo Tuđman’s old authoritarian-nationalist party which had transformed into a pro-European conservative party under Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (2003-2009). The HDZ government became deeply unpopular because of the economic crisis, austerity policies and corruption scandals which have landed Sanader in jail. Hit by the recession, the HDZ government under well-meaning but largely ineffective Prime Minister Jadranska Kosor introduced a new income ‘crisis’ tax and increased the VAT by 1%. More importantly, the HDZ soon became embroiled in a series of particularly egregious corruption cases involving Sanader himself. In December 2010, as the Parliament was about to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, Sanader tried to flee to Austria but was arrested on an Interpol warrant and later extradited to Croatia to face trial. In this context, an opposition coalition, Kukuriku, led by Zoran Milanović’s Social Democrats (SDP) in alliance with the left-liberal Croatian People’s Party-Liberal Democrats (HNS-LD) and the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), won the December 2011 elections in a landslide with 40.7% against only 23.9% for the HDZ coalition.
In office, Milanović’s government has continued with similar austerity policies, which the centre-left government claims are tough measures necessary to make Croatia competitive in the EU and which any government would be forced to take. He has cut public spending, begun a wave of privatizations, reformed pensions, liberalized foreign investment and has talked of cutting 15,000 jobs from the public sector. Some of his controversial economic policies have been opposed by trade unions and employees, while the likes of The Economist dislike the government’s reluctance to cut taxes and public sector wages. The SDP-led government is widely viewed as being uninspiring, and some of Milanović’s decisions have baffled supporters – for example, Milanović barred (until January 2014) the extradition to Germany of former Yugoslav-era secret police chief Josip Perković, who is wanted for the murder of a Croatian defector in Germany in 1983. The opposition HDZ is hardly in better shape. Tomislav Karamarko, the HDZ leader since 2012, has not really improved the HDZ’s standing in opinion polls. In late 2012, the opposition leader was accused of creating a fake scandal to discredit the government (a right-wing paper had alleged that the interior minister had been tapping phones of intelligence operatives, before a left-wing paper countered by claiming that the intelligence operatives had suspected ties with the mafia). In December 2012, Ivo Sanader was found guilty in a first corruption trial and sentenced to 10 years in jail, for having accepted bribes from Austria’s Hypo Bank and an Hungarian oil company. In March 2014, Sanader received another 9 year prison sentence when he – and the HDZ – were found guilty of corruption, accusing Sanader of being behind a scheme to siphon off funds from state-run institutions for personal and partisan financial gain. There has, however, been a mobilization of socially conservative and nationalist opinion, buoyed by the successful initiative referendum last year which amended the constitution to ban gay marriage. The ban on same-sex marriage was approved by 65.9% of voters, despite the opposition of the Prime Minister.
The opposition coalition, made of the HDZ, the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), the national-conservative Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević (HSP-AS) and a pensioners party, won a strong victory – but with only a quarter of the electorate actually turning up. With 41% of the vote, the HDZ’s result is about 8.6 points better than what it had won in the by-election last year, when the right had defeated the SDP coalition by a small margin. The right-wing coalition won 381,844 votes, which is less than what the right received in the 2011 parliamentary elections (554,765), when it had won only 23.4%. Given the low turnout, it is likely a matter of differential mobilization – with opposition voters being more motivated to turn out than supporters of an unpopular and uninspiring government. Polls for the next general elections have showed the right to be tied with or leading the government, but more because the government’s numbers have collapsed to a low level than any major increase in the right’s support (which stands at 24-27%, with the gains from the HDZ’s result in 2011 coming from the addition of the party’s new allies, the HSS and HSP-AS). Turnout was slightly higher in some of the HDZ’s traditional strongholds in Dalmatia, but correlation between turnout and the right’s support was not apparent at the county level. As in 2013, the top vote-winning candidate on preferential votes was Ruža Tomašić, the MEP from the nationalist HSP-AS, who sits with the British Tories in the ECR group (the HDZ, and now the HSS, which won one of the coalition’s six MEPs, sits with the EPP). She won 107,206 votes, or 28.1% of votes cast for the list.
The SDP-led coalition expanded compared to the 2013 EP election, taking in the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), which had won 3.8% of the vote (and topped the poll in Istria, a traditional left-wing bastion), but despite this expansion, the Kukuriku list won 6% less than the SDP-IDS’ combined total from the 2013 by-election and the 275.9k votes it won represents a huge collapse from the 958,000 votes the left had won in 2011. Tonino Picula, an incumbent SDP MEP, received the most preferential votes (48.1%), while the Kukuriku coalition’s top candidate on the list, EU Commissioner Neven Mimica won only 8.1% of preferential votes cast for the list.
To a large extent, the other major winners of the election were smaller parties, although only one of them won seats. ORaH – Croatian Sustainable Development (although orah means nut or walnut in Croatian)- is a new green party founded by former SDP environment minister Mirela Holy, who resigned from cabinet in 2012 citing disagreements with the government’s policy. ORaH describes itself as a socially liberal, progressive green party of the centre-left, and is seeking association with the European Greens. The party’s support has soared in polls since its creation in October 2013, now averaging about 9-11% nationally. Likely pulling votes from the left – ORaH performed best in traditionally left-leaning counties such as the city and county of Zagreb, Istria and Primorje-Gorski Kotar – the party won 9.4% or 86.8 thousand votes, electing Mirela Holy to the EP.
On the right of the spectrum, the Alliance for Croatia, a new right-wing coalition made of the regionalist/conservative Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB), the far-right Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and the new far-right Hrast movement, won 6.9% of the vote, but failed to win a seat. To a large extent, the alliance’s support remained concentrated in the HDSSB’s traditional stronghold in Osijek-Baranja county, where it won 16.4%, but it did win some significant support outside the poor conservative region of Slavonia, notably in Zagreb (7%) and Split-Dalmatia county (10.9%).
The Labourists, a left-wing anti-austerity party founded by HNS dissident Dragutin Lesar, which won 5% in 2011 and 5.8% in 2013, lost its only MEP. The party, which polled up to 10% in 2012, has seen its support declined to 7-8%. The Partnership of the Croatian Centre, a new centre-right alliance including ophthalmologist Nikica Gabrić’ National Forum, the centre-right Social Liberals (HSLS) and two small local parties, won 2.4% of the vote. Former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, expelled from the HDZ in March 2013, was the alliance’s top preferential vote-winner, with 29.7% of the votes cast for the alliance in her name against 24.2% for Gabrić.
This EP election should probably not be taken as an accurate depiction of voters’ view, because turnout was just so low. Polls suggest that the next election, due by 2016, will result in an exploded political scene, with both the SDP and HDZ-led blocs polling below 30% with third parties such as ORaH, the Labourists, the HDSSB and the centrist alliance being all potential kingmakers in what may be a very divided Sabor.
Turnout: 43.97% (-15.43%) – mandatory voting unenforced
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 1.8% threshold (national constituency)
DISY (EPP) 37.75% (+1.76%) winning 2 seats (nc)
AKEL (GUE-NGL) 26.98% (-8.37%) winning 2 seats (nc)
DIKO (S&D) 10.83% (-1.48%) winning 1 seat (nc)
EDEK-Green (S&D) 7.68% (-3.76%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Citizen’s Alliance 6.78% winning 0 seats (nc)
Message of Hope 3.83% winning 0 seats (nc)
ELAM 2.69% (+2.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.42% winning 0 seats (nc)
Cyprus has been especially hard hit by the financial crisis. Cyprus’ huge offshore banking sector speculated on the Greek debt, and came under pressure beginning in 2008-2009 as bad debt ratios rose and they incurred major loses when Greece restructured its debt. The country’s economy collapsed after 2011: in 2013, the worst year of the crisis, the Cypriot GDP shrank by 6% and is projected to remain in recession in 2014 (-4.8%); the public debt has increased from 58.5% in 2009 to 121.5% in 2014, one of the highest public debts in the EU; unemployment has jumped from 5% in 2009 to 19% in 2014, the third highest in the EU. The Cypriot crisis was particularly complicated for EU policymakers and the IMF because the issue was the island’s gigantic and overextended banking sector – in 2011, its banking sector was said to be eight time as big as its GDP. To complicate matters further, a lot of banking deposits were held by wealthy Russians and Russians make up an important share of the local population.
Cyprus had been in trouble for quite some time before 2013, but the government of President Dimitris Christofias, from the communist Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), in office since 2008, initially resisted pressure to seek a bailout from the troika, downplayed the severity of the crisis and opposed implementing austerity and structural reforms. Christofias and the troika didn’t like one another; the latter didn’t trust him to implement structural reforms such as reductions in social spending and public sector wages (which is said to be overstaffed and generously paid compared to the private sector). As the crisis worsened and Cyprus’ credit rating was downgraded, the island was forced to ask for a European bailout in June 2012. Cyprus needed a €17 billion loan spread out over four years, a substantial sum of money representing one year’s worth of the Cypriot GDP; over half of that was needed to recapitalize its banks. In 2011, Cyprus also received a €2.5 billion loan from Russia, which is influential in Cyprus. President Christofias, however, balked at the terms of such deals: he opposed privatization of state assets and was a vocal critic of austerity policies. That being said, his government started introducing austerity policies in 2012 and early 2013: cuts in social spending, a VAT hike and the introduction of retirement contributions for civil servants. With a poor economic record, Christofias did not run for reelection to the presidency in February 2013, and the election was won in a landslide by Nicos Anastasiades, the leader of the conservative pro-EU, pro-bailout and pro-reunification Democratic Rally (DISY). With a more friendly and credible partner, the troika began negotiations for a bailout.
The first bailout agreement in March 2013 represented a major new step in the Eurozone crisis: it imposed a one-time levy on insured and uninsured bank deposits, at a 6.7% rate for deposits up to €100,000 and 9.9% on deposits above that rate. Designed to prevent the island’s banking sector from completely collapsing (but also because Germany didn’t want to loan the full €17 billion and only agreed to €10 billion), the ‘haircut’ on deposits was extremely unpopular and provoked a firestorm in Cyprus and across the EU. A few days later, with pressure from Russia (which was severely irked by the bailout terms) and local protesters, the Parliament rejected the deal. There were worries that Cyprus might be forced to pull out of the eurozone following a tense standoff with the ECB, but a second deal was reached: the Laiki Bank, the second largest bank, would be restructured in a bad bank, spared all insured deposits of €100,000 and less but levied uninsured deposits at the Laiki Bank and 40% of uninsured deposits in the Bank of Cyprus. In the final agreement, no bank levy was imposed, as the Laiki Bank would be directly closed, although uninsured deposits over €100,000 at the Laiki Bank would be lost and those over the same amount at the Bank of Cyprus would be frozen for a haircut if necessary. The Cypriot government also accepted implementation of an anti-money laundering framework, reducing the deficit, structural reforms and privatization. Cyprus also imposed capital controls. However, the first botched bailout was not forgotten in collective memories across Europe, with many fearing that there was now a precedent for ‘bail-ins’ and haircuts in the EU. It also soured Cypriots’ opinion of the EU, fueled by the view that they were the victims of the crisis and were unfairly blamed and punished for it.
With its business model destroyed, the country fell into a deep and painful recession, although the intensity of the recession did not turn out as bad as was predicted last spring and tourism didn’t perform nearly as bad as expected due to Russian tourists. In February 2014, the anti-reunification Democratic Rally (DIKO)’s cabinet ministers resigned and the Parliament did not pass a privatization program, which controversially privatized electricity, telecommunications and ports. A few days later, however, Parliament adopted a revised privatization program, which aims to raise €1.4 billion to pay back the next €156 million aid tranche. International creditors had threatened to withhold payments. The other part of the story behind DIKO’s resignation was its opposition to the reopening of talks with the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north (the TRNC); the issue has been at an impasse since Greek Cypriots in the south rejected the 2004 Annan Plan to reunify the island in a referendum right before it joined the EU, but Anastasiades and DISY were the only leading southern politicians to call for a yes vote in 2004 (Christofias and AKEL are pro-reunification, but Christofias had crucially failed to endorse the yes at the last moment).
The EP election saw extremely low turnout, by Cypriot standards. In 2004, turnout was 72.5%, but it fell to a low of 59.4% in 2009. For comparison, in the 2013 presidential election, over 80% of the electorate had turned out. This year, turnout collapsed below 50%, to 44% – an all-time low. The cause of the low turnout is likely political dissatisfaction and growing apathy – Cyprus hasn’t seen major social movements or protests against the austerity policies imposed, unlike Greece or Spain. As predicted by local pollsters, in a low turnout election, most voters were party loyalists who voted along the traditional party lines. The governing DISY won the election; Anastasiades has managed to shrug off the humiliation of March 2013. However, despite a strong victory, its actual number of voters – because of the low turnout – falls far short of what DISY won in 2009 or 2013. The major loser was the communist AKEL, the former ruling party, which suffered from the demobilization of its electorate, traditionally loyal, after the disastrous record of AKEL’s last term in government. AKEL’s anti-credibility also lacks in credibility. Cyprus stands out from the rest of Europe – and the world – for the strength of the communist movement on the island, which has been active since the 1920s and present in Parliament since independence. AKEL generally tended to support Archbishop Makarios’ government and oppose the enosist (union with Greece) far-right before 1974. DISY was founded as the most pro-Western and pro-NATO centre-right party in 1976 after the invasion, by Glafkos Clerides.
The two smaller parties, the anti-reunification DIKO and the social democratic EDEK (founded by Makarios’ physician and Greek nationalist Vassos Lyssarides in 1969; it ran in alliance with the Greens, KOP) lost votes. Smaller parties benefited from the political climate, but failed to win seats. The Citizen’s Alliance, an anti-corruption, Eurosceptic and anti-Turkish party, won 6.8% of the vote. Somewhat notable was the small success of ELAM (National Popular Front), a far-right/neo-Nazi party tied to Greece’s Golden Dawn (XA). It won 2.7%, a ‘major’ gain from 2009. With over 6,900 votes, ELAM actually won more votes than it did in 2013.
DISY won all districts. It won its biggest victory in the small Greek Cypriot portion of Ammochostos/Famagusta district, with 47.9%, but only 14,000 or so votes were cast. AKEL was defeated in Larnaca district, the traditional communist bastion on the island, with 33.7% to DISY’s 39.2%. In Pafos district, EDEK suffered major loses, losing 8% of the vote.
Turnout: 18.20% (-15.43%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)
ANO 2011 (ALDE) 16.13% (+16.13%) winning 4 seats (+4)
TOP 09-STAN (EPP) 15.95% (+15.95%) winning 4 seats (+4)
ČSSD (S&D) 14.17% (-8.21%) winning 4 seats (-3)
KSČM (GUE-NGL) 10.98% (-3.2%) winning 3 seats (-1)
KDU-ČSL (EPP) 9.95% (+2.31%) winning 3 seats (+1)
ODS (ECR) 7.67% (-23.78%) winning 2 seats (-7)
Svobodní (EFD) 5.24% (+3.98%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirate Party 4.78% (+4.78%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green Party (G-EFA) 3.77% (+1.71%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Úsvit 3.12% (+3.12%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 8.24% (-12.79%) winning 0 seats (nc)
In the past five years, there have been huge changes in Czech politics, which may portend a realignment of the country’s partisan and political system, which is more unstable and exploded than ever before. For years, Czech politics were dominated by the centre-right and Eurosceptic Civic Democrats (ODS), close allies of the British Tories; and the centre-left Social Democrats (ČSSD); ideological differences became muted after the two rivals signed an ‘opposition agreement’ in 1998 in which the ODS agreed to tolerate a ČSSD minority government in return for government jobs and keeping access to the spoils. The 1998 agreement was immediately unpopular, and briefly boosted the prospects of the largely unreformed Communist Party (KSČM) and the centrists, led by the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). It is cited to this day as the moment at which the ODS and ČSSD agreed to share the spoils, betray the voters and allowed politics to become corrupted by a murky group of lobbyists and businessmen. Yet, the system did not collapsed: after both parties did poorly in 2002, they both gained votes after a very polarized and acrimonious closely-fought election in 2006. The ODS formed an unstable government reliant on the KDU-ČSL and the Greens, which fell in early 2009. The 2010 elections were the first sign of major cracks in the system: both the ODS and ČSSD, while still placing on top, won only 20% and 22% respectively, a major fall from 2006. Two new centre-right parties, the pro-European conservative TOP 09 and the ‘anti-corruption’ scam Public Affairs (VV), did very well, and entered government with the ODS, led by Petr Nečas.
Petr Nečas’ government agenda included fiscal responsibility, the fight against corruption and rule of law. It basically failed on all three counts, especially the last two. Rigid austerity policies – one-point increases in the VAT rates, a new higher tax on high incomes breaking the flat tax (introduced by a previous ODS cabinet), and allowed pensions savings to be diverted into a private fund – were unpopular, and some faced hostility from the right (President Václav Klaus, a controversial and brash Eurosceptic, opposed the VAT hike and disliked the pension reform). The Czech Republic suffered a double-dip recession, and is projected to start growing again – but slowly – only this year. The government turned out to be awash with corrupt politicians – it was revealed that VV was actually part of a business plan for a security company owned by the party’s unofficial leader and cabinet minister Vit Bárta, who also bribed VV MPs in return for their loyalty. VV split and rapidly collapsed. In June 2013, Nečas’ chief of staff and mistress (the two have since married), was arrested along with military intelligence officials and ODS MPs; she was accused of asking military intelligence to spy on three civilians, including Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ then-wife; and brokering a bribery deal to convince three rebel ODS MPs to resign to save the government on the VAT hike vote in 2012. Nečas, who had been known as ‘Mr. Clean’, was forced to resign and the ODS’ support, which had already collapsed to only 12% in the 2012 regional elections, fell in the single digits. President Miloš Zeman, a brash and sharp-elbowed former ČSSD Prime Minister (who later left the party), who won the first direct presidential election in early 2013, controversially appointed a cabinet of friends and allies which did not receive the confidence of the Chamber and forced snap elections in October 2013.
The October 2013 elections saw major political changes. The ČSSD, torn apart by a feud between the anti-Zeman leadership (Bohuslav Sobotka) and a pro-Zeman rebel group (Michal Hašek) and weakened by corruption of its own, once again sabotaged its own campaign and won an all-time low of 20.5% – although they still placed first. The ODS, worn down by corruption and the economy, collapsed to fifth place with 7.7%. TOP 09, a pro-European party which otherwise shares much of the ODS’ low-tax, small government and pro-business agenda, surpassed the ODS, taking 12%, although it lost 4.7% of its vote from the 2010 election. TOP 09’s unofficial leader and popular mascot is Karel Schwarzenberg, the colourful and popular prince and former foreign minister; the party’s actual boss is the far less glamorous Miroslav Kalousek, a somewhat slimy politico who came from the KDU-ČSL. The KSČM placed third with 14.9%, a strong result but not the party’s best; the KSČM has a strong and loyal core of support and it has always done well when the ČSSD is unpopular or discredited (in 2002 and 2004, for example, or in 2012), but the party, despite some evolution, remains a controversial pariah which has not officially supported or participated in a national government (but governs regionally with the ČSSD). The sensation, however, came from ANO 2011 – a new populist party founded and led by Andrej Babiš, a billionaire businessman (owner of Agrofert, a large agricultural, agrifood and chemical company in the country) of Slovak origin. Babiš campaigned on an attractive anti-system, anti-corruption, anti-politician and pro-business centre-right platform which denounced professional politicians, corruption, government interference in the economy and promised low taxes. But Babiš is a controversial man – during the campaign, Slovak documents alleged that he was a collaborator and agent of the communist regime’s secret police; Babiš has been compared to Silvio Berlusconi, and raised eyebrows when he bought the country’s largest media group before the elections. ANO 2011 placed second with 18.7%. Úsvit (Dawn of Direct Democracy), another new right-wing populist party founded by eccentric and idiosyncratic Czech-Japanese businessman and senator Tomio Okamura, won 6.9%. Described by opponents as ‘proto-fascist’, Úsvit, which called for direct democracy and a right-wing economic/fiscal agenda (low taxes, attacking people ‘a layer of people who do not like to work’), controversially called on ‘gypsies’ to be sent back to India. Úsvit’s anti-corruption outrage rings hollow, because one of its candidates (who lost) was Vit Bárta.
Government formation was complicated by tensions between the ČSSD and ANO, which had not had kind words for one another; and tensions within the ČSSD, where Hašek’s supporters, likely with Zeman’s underhanded support, unwisely and unsuccessfully tried to topple Sobotka. Despite Zeman’s obvious misgivings about Sobotka and his desire to continue influencing the government, in January 2014, he agreed to appoint Sobotka as Prime Minister at the helm of a coalition government with the ČSSD, ANO and KDU-ČSL. Notwithstanding some very real policy differences and partisan tensions between the two main partners, the coalition has agreed to a moderate platform, which aims to keep the budget deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, eliminate healthcare user fees, raise pension payments and the minimum wage, lowering the VAT on some products, rolling back the ODS’ pension reforms, tax breaks for families with children and may lower compensation payments to churches (the ODS government controversially signed a deal to return real estate valued at 75 billion CZK to churches and offer financial compensation of 59 billion CZK). It will also take a more pro-EU direction than the ODS, having pledged to ratify the European Fiscal Compact. ANO sends mixed messages on Europe, trying to be both pro-EU and sufficiently Eurosceptic at the same time. Babiš is finance minister in the new government, and his continued ownership of Agrofert has led to accusations of conflict of interest.
The EP election saw extremely low turnout, down from 28.3% in 2004 and 28.2% in 2009 (which was already low, even for low-stakes elections in the country), reaching only 18.2% of the vote. With a fairly popular government still in honeymoon with little controversies yet, there was likely even less motivation to vote this year. As in the last two EP elections, it appears that the electorate which turns out is to the right of the average voter: compared to national polling, the ČSSD and KSČM did slightly worse (they’re currently polling 19-21% and 14-17% respectively) while TOP 09, polling 8-11%, did quite well. ANO, which is polling very well nationally (20-28%), did not do as well; while it pulls mostly from voters who had backed the right in 2010, it is a more rural and regional base lacking the Czech right’s traditional well-off urban component. Turnout figures regionally confirm pro-right differential turnout, with the highest turnout being recorded in Prague, the right’s (TOP 09) stronghold, at 25.8%, while turnout was below 20% in every other region and very low (15%) in Moravia-Silesia, the Social Democrats’ strongest region (and 13% in Karviná district, a coal mining area where the party had won 32% in 2013). In Prague, TOP 09 received 27% against 14.5% for ANO.
ANO topped the poll with 16.1%, just ahead of TOP 09, which won 16%. The left – ČSSD and KSČM – did poorly because of low leftist turnout, winning only 14.2% and 11% respectively, in both cases this represents a substantial loss from the last EP election in 2009 (where the ČSSD had done poorly as well). The KDU-ČSL did well, winning nearly 10% of the vote and topped the poll in Vysočina, South Moravia and Zlín regions, dominating their traditional rural clerical Moravian strongholds. A small anti-EU party, Svobodní (Party of Free Citizens) won 5.2% and one seat; the party, which is close to UKIP and whose new MEP (and leader) is a former adviser to Klaus, supports a small government, low taxes and abolishing subsidies and income taxes. The party is anti-EU, wishing to transform it into a voluntary free trade association or to leave the EU to join the EFTA; it opposed Lisbon and the euro, and now opposes the European Fiscal Compact. Having won less votes than in 2013 (when it won 2.5%), the party likely owes its entrance into the EP to the higher turnout in Prague, where it won over 7% of the vote.
The map on the left shows the results by municipality. TOP 09 clearly dominated Prague, Brno and Plzeň; ANO was strongest, like in 2013, in right-leaning areas of Bohemia, outside the urban centres in towns and rural areas (and in places where Agrofert is a major employer); the ČSSD managed to top the poll in industrial Silesia but few other places; the KSČM was strongest in North Bohemia and other former Sudeten German territory (which was re-settled by Czechs post-1945); the KDU-ČSL dominated rural Moravia.
Ihned’s ever-useful data blog has a tool (in Czech, but Google Translate does fine) allowing you to see average results in towns based on certain sociodemographic filters. It confirms the link between turnout and stronger support for TOP 09: where turnout was above the national average, TOP 09’s vote share was 6.9% above its national average; the ODS, Svobodní, the Pirates and the Greens also performed better where turnout was higher, while ČSSD and KSČM clearly did poorer where turnout was higher. ANO did slightly better in areas with lower turnout. The other demographic filters give a good portrait of the voter base of each party. Unsurprisingly, the strongest correlation is between KDU-ČSL and religiosity in this very atheist country – in areas where the share of the faithful is above the national average (which appears to be 14%), the Christian Democrats placed first with 18.1%. The party’s support rise exponentially as the share of the faithful increase in any given area, taking 30% where it is above 28%, 36% where it is over 40% and 43.2% in the few municipalities where more than half of the population are religious. TOP 09’s traditional supporter was very urban, young, not married, very well educated (post-secondary), employed, living in a house and probably an entrepreneur or self-employed. The ČSSD and KSČM had a slightly older, less urban, less educated (especially the Communists) electorate which was also more likely to be unemployed (especially for the KSČM) and far more likely to be an employee. ANO’s support was fairly composite; with no clear core voter base: the party’s average voter is slightly more likely to be an entrepreneur or self-employed, a bit less likely to be unemployed but otherwise its support is less clear-cut than that of TOP 09, ODS and even Svobodní (the right-wing parties). Like in 2013, ANO likely attracted a very demographically and ideologically varied electorate.
Turnout: 56.32% (-1.38%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (national constituency), seats distributed to alliances (separate lists with votes being pooled together) and then to independent lists (de jure 2% threshold)
O (DF) – Danish People’s Party (EFD > ECR) 26.61% (+11.33%) winning 4 seats (+2)
A (SD) – Social Democrats (S&D) 19.12% (-2.37%) winning 3 seats (-1)
V – Venstre (ALDE) 16.68% (-3.56%) winning 2 seats (-1)
F (SF) – Socialist People’s Party (G-EFA) 10.95% (-4.92%) winning 1 seat (-1)
C – Conservative People’s Party (EPP) 9.15% (-3.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
N – People’s Movement against the EU (GUE-NGL) 8.07% (+0.87%) winning 1 seat (nc)
B (RV) – Social Liberals (ALDE) 6.54% (+2.27%) winning 1 seat (+1)
I – Liberal Alliance 2.88% (+2.29%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The right-wing populist/far-right Danish People’s Party (DF, or by its ballot paper abbreviation, O) won a remarkable victory – its biggest electoral success, both in terms of percentage and number of votes – in the party’s history, confirming that the party, on the upswing since the 2011 legislative election, is stronger than ever before and is now in a position to compete with the traditional parties of the left (Social Democrats, A) and right (Venstre/Liberals, V) for power.
The left bloc – led by the Social Democrats and made of the green/left-wing Socialist People’s Party (SF), the left-liberal Social Liberals (RV) with external support from the far-left Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten, Ø) – very narrowly won the 2011 elections, ending ten years of right bloc rule – by the centre-right Liberals (V) and Conservatives (C) with external support from the DF. It was already a somewhat Pyrrhic victory, because the SDs, led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, saw their support decline even further (to an historic low of 24.8%) while only RV – which gained 8 seats, to take 17 seats and Ø – which won an historic 6.7% ans 12 seats made gains (SF, which won an historic 13% in 2007, fell to 9%). The left’s victory owed mostly to the gains made its most right-wing and left-wing components, and general fatigue with a tired right-wing government. Helle Thorning-Schmidt (‘Gucci Helle’), the notoriously aloof and ‘snobby’ SD leader, was already fairly unpopular in 2011. Since then, the government, and the SDs in particular, has become badly unpopular.
The government, initially made up of ministers from the SDs, SF and RV, adopted a rather right-wing economic and fiscal policy which dismayed many of the left’s voters and led to major tensions with the Red-Greens, who provided outside support to the government. Soon after taking office, the new government was compelled to accept sharp cuts in the efterløn, a scheme which lets workers retire early on a reduced pension – the policy is popular with manual works in physically demanding jobs, but unpopular with white-collar workers and academics. The outgoing right-wing government, with the backing of the Social Liberals (whose economic and fiscal policy is fairly right-leaning and supportive of lower taxes and a slightly less generous welfare state), had passed a reduction in the efterløn and an increase in the retirement age; after coming into office, the SDs and SF accepted the new policy – after the SDs had vigorously campaigned against changes to the efterløn in the 2011 election. In June 2012, the government agreed to a tax reforms with the Liberals and Conservatives, which increased the top tax threshold (thus reducing taxes on the wealthy) and employment allowance (reducing the taxes on wages) and reduced state benefits (unemployment insurance, early retirement, child benefits); with the aim of increasing labour output, enticing Danes to work more and increasing the the economic benefit of working relative to receiving welfare. The government argued that it was taking difficult but necessary long-term measures to address demographic challenges to Denmark’s aging workforce, but the very neoliberal flavour of the tax reform infuriated the Red-Greens and threw SF, already criticized for having moved to the right to increase the party’s ‘respectability’, in a difficult position. Relations between the government and the Red-Greens were severely damaged; while an increasingly large number of SF voters (and some SD voters) defected to Ø, a process which actually begun in the 2011 election, when SF had lost a share of its most left-wing 2007 voters to Ø. At the same time, the right bloc took a decisive lead in polls; the SDs lost a number of working-class supporters to the DF and V, likely the result of voters disgruntled by the government’s shift on efterløn, a slight liberalization of tough immigration policies (under DF pressure, the previous VC government had adopted some of the EU’s strictest immigration laws, including the 24-year-rule, which imposes strict conditions on family reunification and spouses’ immigration; the left has largely kept these popular rules in place, while liberalizing the more contentious aspects, such as the heavily reduced social benefits for immigrants and detention centres for asylum seekers being processed), the mediocre economic situation, government scandals and mishaps and broken promises.
In September 2012, SF leader Villy Søvndal, who had led the party’s shift towards the centre and ‘respectability’ between 2007 and 2011 and supported close collaboration with the SDs in government, stepped down. In a high-stakes leadership race, Annette Vilhelmsen, a SF MP positioned on the party’s left, defeated health minister Astrid Krag, the candidate of the party’s ‘right’. Although Vilhelmsen dumped Thor Möger Pedersen, the young and unpopular (with the SF’s left) taxation minister and shifted rhetoric to the left, her election did not signal a major shift in the SF’s behaviour in government – it still played second-fiddle to the stronger SDs – nor did it turn around the SF’s sinking polling numbers (in 2013, SF’s numbers sank further, in the 3-5% range, while Ø polled up to 10-14%). The government – especially SD and SF – continued to be badly unpopular in 2013, with the right retaining a decisive lead (about 55-45 for the right bloc in total). A social assistance reform (which reduced benefits for young people and added more stringent eligibility rules; it was approved in August 2013 with the support of all four right-wing parties and the opposition of Ø) and the continued mediocrity of the economy (weak growth in 2013, unemployment at 7%) meant that the Social Democrats saw their support collapse even further, falling to 15-18% in early 2013 before edging back over 20% later in the year. V, which was still polling over 30%, DF and Ø all took their shares of SD voters. SF voters from 2011 divided between loyalty, moving to the left (Ø) or doing like some party members and parliamentarians did (move to the SDs).
In November 2013, the government passed its budget with support from V and C, after failing to bridge differences with Ø. The budget included millions in concessions to businesses and for higher job allowances. Although unpopular on the left, its effect was mitigated by V’s troubles, after the party’s leader and former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen was accused of spending over a million kroner on luxury flights and hotels in his capacity as chairman of the Global Green Growth Initiative – which is publicly funded by the Danish government. However, development minister Christian Friis Bach (RV) was forced to resign as well, after it turned out that he had lied about the government not approving the expensive travel rules).
In late January 2014, the government ran into yet another crisis with a deal to sell 19% of DONG Energy – Denmark’s largest energy company (of which the government owned 81%) – to the American investment bank Goldman Sachs. The deal attracted criticism from the left and DF because of Goldman Sachs’ role in the financial crisis and their plan to buy the shares via tax havens to pay less taxes in Denmark. The issue reopened the question of SF’s participation in government, and led to internal chaos in the party: the SF executive narrowly voted to accept the sale, some opponents of the deal in SF resigned, Ø pushed a parliamentary motion to postpone the sell to force SF MPs to take a stance and finally it culminated with SF leader Vilhelmsen announcing her resignation and that SF was leaving the government (but would continue to support it). Thorning-Schmidt shuffled her cabinet, creating a new government with the SDs and RV. SF voted in favour of the sale in committee, honouring the executive committee’s decision. Supporters of the government within SF ranks – largely supporters of former SF leader Villy Søvndal from the pro-SD ‘workerite’ right of SF – defected to the SDs, including defeated leadership contender Astrid Krag (who nevertheless lost her health portfolio) and former Communist stalwart Ole Sohn. Pia Olsen Dyhr, a member of SF’s ‘green right-wing’, was acclaimed as SF’s new leader.
A month after this crisis, the government ran into another hot potato which stoked Eurosceptic sentiments ahead of the EP election. The old right-wing government tried to limit EU nationals’ ability to receive child benefits by requiring that they have lived or worked in Denmark for two of the last ten years. In 2013, the EU Commission notified Copenhagen that this was not in accordance with EU law (as it discriminated against other EU nationals), and the Danish government began administering according to EU law, which takes precedence, and in February 2014 it proposed a law to amend Danish legislation to make it consistent with EU law. The opposition (V, C, DF, Liberal Alliance) and Ø (which denounced ‘bowing down’ to the EU and called on the government to follow Danish law) supported a motion reaffirming the Danish law. To mitigate the boost which DF received, at the expense of both V (which had some reticence about taking such a tough anti-EU stance) and the SDs, the government proposed tougher controls of EU citizens’ access to welfare benefits. In early May, the government was voted down on the motion on child benefits – with the opposition parties, including the Liberals, and the Red-Greens voting in favour of the motion and the government and SF voting against. In practice, the government will keep administering the law according to EU directives.
In this context, DF won a crushing victory. The party received 26.6% of the vote, by far the party’s highest vote share ever (the previous record, set five years ago, was 15.3%); but it also received the highest raw vote in its history – 605,889 votes, easily surpassing the previous record, which was 479.5k votes in the 2007 legislative election. DF benefited from national dynamics in its favour, but also a personality factor. Nationally, DF has been on an upswing since it lost votes and seats for the first time in its history in the 2011 election. Cashing in on the feeling of betrayal by the left of working-class voters, DF has made inroads with workers and SD voters: according to a study in February, 12% of SD voters from the last election would now vote for DF, along with an estimated 9% of SF and V voters from 2011. In the last weeks drawing up to the EP election, DF additionally benefited from two events: firstly, the political debate on child benefits for EU nationals and the application of EU law over the Danish law and secondly, a new scandal about V leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen using his party’s purse to pay for his clothes and a family vacation down south. In both cases, these events reflected badly on the Liberals, whose support in national polling has declined significantly as a result. In the first case, the child benefits debate increased latent Eurosceptic feelings and allowed DF to attract V supporters for the EP elections. In the second case, V was the target of attacks from the media and the right-wing partners (C, DF, Liberal Alliance). Secondly, DF had the strongest top candidate of all parties in this open-list election. Incumbent DF MEP Morten Messerschmidt is quite popular and he’s the most well-known MEP: already in 2009 he had broken the Danish record for most personal preferential votes in an EP election (set by former SD PM Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in 2004). This year, he broke his own record for most preferential votes in an EP election in Denmark, winning 465,758 preferential votes or 20.5% of all votes cast. His closest competitor, SD MEP-elect Jeppe Kofod won only 170,739 preferential votes (7.5%).
DF will probably not perform as well in a national election, but it is clear that the party’s fortunes are clearly really looking up these days. More than a few recent national polls have indicated that DF may become the largest right-wing party, ahead of the Liberals – some polls have even placed them as the single largest party nationally; if replicated in an election, it would be a phenomenal success for the party and create a highly interesting situation for government-formation. Most recent polls have placed DF party at over 20% – for comparison’s sake, DF won 12.3% in 2011 and its record high in a national election is only 13.8% (2007). Over the past few years, DF has successfully managed its first leadership transition in its history (DF’s founder and polarizing, but highly successful, leader Pia Kjærsgaard retired in 2012 and was succeeded by her dauphin, Kristian Thulesen Dahl) and a bid to make the party more respectable. Kjærsgaard had fairly successfully built up the party and given it its distinctive anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-multiculturalism, Eurosceptic and pro-welfare state (DF has more interventionist economic policies, by far, than the traditional right, supporting the welfare state and strong social benefits for Danish citizens) image. She gained significant influence over Danish politics by way of her influence over the previous VC government and particularly its immigration policies. Kristian Thulesen Dahl must give the party further respectability, perhaps with the aim of establishing DF as a major and leading force of the Danish mainstream right. The party is already highly disciplined and mature; it is now moving to adopt less extreme and more ‘respectable’ policies, notably on immigration. DF’s trouble is that, in first place, it would have a hard time finding allies, although some low-ranking SD members have expressed sympathy for a SD-DF coalition (which seems to exist locally in the working-class suburb of Hvidovre since the 2013 locals). DF is careful of who it hangs out with: it considers the French and Austrian far-right to be far too extreme and disreputable, and it has instead sat with UKIP in the EFD group and has now successfully courted the British Conservative-led ECR group. In the new EP, DF’s 4 MEPs will sit with the ECR group. It’s a major boon for DF; allowing it to compare itself to the Tories rather than be compared to the FN or FPÖ.
DF swept most of Denmark outside of Copenhagen and the city of Aarhus (and the island of Bornholm, which recorded a weird large swing to the SDs) – it won areas which have traditionally leaned to both the Social Democrats and the Liberals. DF won phenomenal numbers in Copenhagen’s suburbs – particularly the working-class and SD-leaning suburbs, such as Tårnby (35%), Brøndby (35%) and Hvidovre (34%), which were already DF strongholds; but DF also topped the poll in more middle-class SD suburbs such as Ballerup (32%), Rødovre (29.6%) and even the fairly affluent Lyngby in the right-leaning northern suburbs (18%). In Zealand, DF also performed remarkably well, with results over 30% in most districts. It also did very well in Lolland district (35.5%), an area with a rural working-class (sugar beets) and shipbuilding (Nakskov) tradition where SF was quite strong until recently. DF performed quite well in Jutland, especially so in the old industrial towns of Fredericia (35%) and Frederikshavn (35.1%). DF’s traditional electorate is old, blue-collar (and probably retired blue-collar) and with lower levels of education.
The Social Democrats lost one of their seats, and their vote fell by 2.4% to only 19.1%; however, things could have been worse for them: they placed second, ahead of an embattled Liberal Party and SD has not usually performed well in Danish EP elections, where some of its voters have sometimes tended to support other left-wing parties or Eurosceptic/anti-EU lists unique to EP elections. The SDs suffered from the unpopularity of the government, and the party’s situation remains difficult, but there was no collapse as there could have been. The main loser was instead V, which won only 16.7% and lost one of their 3 seats – ending up with only 2. The Liberals, in addition to the challenges mentioned above and DF/Messerschmidt’s attraction for V supporters, also had a mediocre top candidate who did not draw many votes to her name. V’s top candidate, Ulla Tørnæs, who only 6% of votes cast, is a former cabinet minister with a mediocre electoral record and reputation; she was chosen to replace the party’s stronger initial candidate, who got pregnant and over MEP Jens Rohde, who was too pro-EU integration for the party’s tastes. V’s terrible result placed significant pressure on the party’s leader, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, to resign at a crisis meeting of the party’s central committee. Although he was expected to resign, Lars Løkke Rasmussen survived the party’s meeting on June 3. The EP disaster and the scandals have hit the Liberals very badly: one shock poll from June 2 showed V in third, with only 14.5% support, while the government – for the first time since the election – led the opposition, 51.5% to 48.5%.
SF’s support naturally fell back from the party’s record performance in 2009, but with 11% of the vote, it remains a surprisingly strong performance for the party. Since leaving government, SF has gradually dug itself out of the hole it dug itself into, likely regaining the support of voters who left it for Ø during its stint in government – indeed, polls have shown that SF’s small gains (up to about 6%, which is still pretty bad) have mostly come at the expense of Ø, which is now under 10% in most polls. In the EP election, SF, which was defending only one seat after its second MEP defected to the SDs, was helped by incumbent MEP Margrete Auken, who won 6.7% of the preferential votes. Additionally, because Ø does not run in EP elections – its electorate usually supports the anti-EU People’s Movement against the EU (N, FolkeB) – some ex-SF voters who would now vote Ø nationally chose to vote SF for the EP. SF placed first support in the very left-wing downtown Copenhagen, after the party suffered major loses in the city in last year’s local elections.
The Conservatives (C) did quite well, all things considered. The party suffered a huge swing in the 2011 elections, when the party’s vote collapsed to an historic low of 4.9% (from over 10% in 2007 and 2003) and lost 10 seats, left with only 8 MPs. The party has been shackled with very poor leadership since 2008, and the Conservatives have lost a lot of their natural bases and key distinctive themes to other parties of the right: current C leader Lars Barfoed has taken the party in a more anti-DF and centrist (and ‘humanist’, in touch with C’s claim to be more socially-concerned and humanitarian than V) direction. In 2011, a fairly meaningless pact with the RV to cooperate across the centre worried the party’s right-wingers that it was shifting away from its traditional place in the bourgeois right-wing bloc. The Liberal Alliance, under current leader Anders Samuelsen, has shifted to the right in a libertarian direction, stealing C’s traditional call for lower taxes and small government in 2011; C’s other old core issue – national defense and patriotism – is a lesser issue, and national conservatives have likely gone over to the DF. Since 2011, the party has not made a recovery – it remains at its low levels from the last election, and polls have indicate that it has suffered from continued bleeding to the Liberals and the Liberal Alliance, the beneficiaries of C’s collapse in 2011. In the EP election, the Liberal Alliance ran a little-known candidate and did not join the V-C ‘electoral alliance’ (which would have made it easier for them to win a seat), and the party’s list got only 2.9%, compared to the 5% it won in 2011 and what it polls today (5-6%). The Conservatives also had a good top candidate: former C leader Bendt Bendtsen, who could be seen as the party’s last somewhat successful leader. He won 6.6% of preferential votes.
The People’s Movement against the EU(N) is an old left-wing anti-EU (it still seeks to leave the EU) movement, which only runs in EP elections, and is sometimes – inaccurately – seen as the EP equivalent of Ø. Its emphasis is more anti-EU – albeit from a clear leftist perspective (social dumping) – than ideologically far-left/socialist, and it likely has a somewhat broader electorate than Ø’s very left-wing base (while not all Ø voters may support N). N actually won the first EP elections in 1979, but its support declined consistently in every election after that until 2004, when the party reached a low of 5.2%. Between 1994 and 2004, it suffered from the competition of the anti-Maastricht (but not anti-EU membership) June Movement, which peaked at 16% in 1999 and lost its last seat in 2009. In 2009, FolkeB increased its support; it managed to do so again this year, despite being led by a little-known new MEP, Rina Ronja Kari. It likely benefited a bit, but not fully, from Ø’s popularity.
The Social Liberals, running in alliance with SD and SF, regained the seat it had lost in 2009, taking 6.5% of the vote.
Turnout was down on 2009, but remained high – by Danish EP election standards (not by national election standards) – at 56.3%. Like in 2009, a referendum likely drew out some more voters. This year, voters were asked to ratify Denmark’s participation in the EU’s Unified Patent Court. 62.5% voted in favour. DF and Ø had pushed the government to hold a referendum.
Turnout: 36.52% (-7.36%)
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (national constituency), no threshold
Reform Party (ALDE) 24.3% (+9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Centre Party (ALDE) 22.4% (-3.7%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (EPP) 13.9% (+4.9%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Democratic Party (S&D) 13.6% (+4.5%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Independent – Indrek Tarand (G-EFA) 13.2% (-12.6%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Conservative People’s Party 4% (+1.8%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Tanel Talve 3.1% winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Silver Meikar 1.8% winning 0 seats (nc)
Estonian Independence Party 1.3% winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.5% winning 0 seats (nc)
Estonia’s governing centre-right Reform Party won the EP elections and took two seats. The Baltic country’s economy is highly liberalized, something which has made it something of a ‘poster child’ for fiscal orthodoxy and economic liberalism on the right. Estonia introduced a flat tax in 1994, which remains in place at the rate of 21%, lowered from 26%. The country has been governed since 2005 by the Reform Party (RE), an economically liberal centre-right party which under Prime Minister Andrus Ansip (2005-2014) followed an orthodox fiscal policy which has paid off for the country – or at least in part. Estonia’s debt-to-GDP ratio is only 10%, the lowest in the EU, and it has only a tiny deficit of 0.4%. The country has a high rate of start-up businesses and a heavy use of new technologies (Estonia famously introduced e-voting, using a biometric ID card system, in 2007), and right-wing think tanks give the country splendid marks on rankings of ‘economic freedom’ or the ease of doing business. The economic stability allowed Estonia to become the first Baltic state to join the Eurozone, in January 2011. The country’s growth, nevertheless, has been patchy since the global recession hit: in 2009, the economy shrank by 14% due to a property bubble, after having solid growth between 6-10% between 2000 and 2007. In 2011, an export boom and the government’s fiscal policies allowed the country’s economy to recover, growing by 9.6%. But since then, growth has slowed to 0.8% last year and 2% projected for 2014. The country’s relatively strong economic performance has made it the focus of academic debates abroad: on the right, many hold it up as the success story of austerity policies (implemented in 2008-9) but others, notably Paul Krugman, pointed out Estonia’s ‘incomplete’ recovery (in Krugman’s case, it earned him a strong rebuke from the Estonian President)
The Reform Party was reelected in 2011, taking 33 seats in the 101-seat legislature (a small gain of three seats). Since then, however, the government and Ansip’s popularity tapered off, and RE’s polling numbers declined considerably in 2013, falling behind one or more of the three other important parties. A major cause of this rising unpopularity may have been ‘Silvergate’ – a former RE MP (Silver Meikar) alleged that the Reform Party received anonymous dubious donations. Although the government did its best to slide the issue under the rug, the justice minister was forced to resign in December 2012, having been accused of being aware and even involved in the illegal channeling of funds. It was the most important of several corruption scandals which weakened the government, along with rising voter fatigue in an increasingly arrogant government. In March 2014, Ansip resigned. It was expected that Siim Kallas, RE’s founding father and former Prime Minister (2002-2003) and EU Commissioner since 2004, would ‘swap jobs’ with Ansip, allowing Ansip to join the EU Commission while Kallas became Prime Minister. However, Kallas unexpectedly withdrew his names after negotiations with the Social Democrats (SDE) and instead Taavi Rõivas, who is only 34, became Prime Minister, in coalition with the SDE (replacing the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, IRL).
Ideological differences are fairly muted in a fairly enclosed and elitist political system: the SDE, the fourth largest party, and the Centre Party (KESK), the main opposition party, both favour a progressive income tax but in both cases these parties are moderate and not markedly different from the government. The right-wing IRL is similar to Reform, with an added populist bent and more traditionalist, conservative outlook than Reform (a party of young-ish technocrats and professionals). SDE is not descended from a communist party, unlike a lot of its Eastern European partners, and some of its founding components even have right-wing roots; its policies are very moderate and left-wing socialist politics are toxic in Estonia. All four parties have been in government with Reform at some time since 2005.
KESK, the main opposition party, is controversial and divisive. Although sometimes identified as a ‘social liberal’ or left-liberal party, KESK is primarily a populist party whose positions are oftentimes hardly ‘socially liberal’. It is also something of a personal machine, with a heavy-handed strongman as its leader since 1991: Edgar Savisaar, a former Prime Minister (1992-1993) and the mayor of Tallinn. Savisaar has run his party with an iron fist, throwing out party members who have questioned his leadership, and has a bad reputation for corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism as mayor of the capital. KESK’s strongest support comes from the country’s Russian minority, a fact which adds to the party’s divisiveness in the country. Russians make up 26.1% of the population, with a significant minority (37%) in Tallinn and a large majority (73%) in the easternmost county of Ida-Viru, which borders Russia. Although a small minority of Russian Old Believers (about 8% of the population in the 1930s) were present prior to the Soviet Union’s invasion and annexation, the bulk of the Russian minority moved forcibly or voluntarily to Estonia under Soviet rule, which has made them illegal immigrants in the eyes of the most radical Estonian nationalists. In 1992, Estonia, like Latvia, restored citizenship to those who had Estonian citizenship prior to the 1940 invasion and their descendants (on the basis of state continuity); this left most Russians without citizenship, and the option to choose between naturalization (requiring basic knowledge of Estonian, the constitution and the citizenship act), acquiring Russian citizenship or remaining ‘undetermined’. Most have opted for naturalization, but in 2014, 6.5% of residents remained with ‘undetermined citizenship’ and 9.2% were foreign nationals (mostly Russians). Relations with Russia and the issue of the Russian minority remains a highly contentious and divisive issue both diplomatically and domestically. Savisaar has been accused of ties to Russian politicians and KESK has received donations from Russian companies and is said to have close ties with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. In 2012, six MPs and the party’s two MEPs left the party, opposing Savisaar’s leadership.
The Reform Party, with EU Commission-hopeful Andrus Ansip as its top candidate, topped the poll, gaining 9% over its weak performance in 2009. Ansip was the most-voted individual candidates, receiving over 450,000 votes. Kaja Kallas, the daughter of Siim Kallas and a RE MP, won a second EP seat for the party, taking nearly 21,500 votes. The Centre Party was the only major party to suffer loses, losing nearly 4% of its support from 2009 and its second MEP seat. Notably, KESK leader Edgar Savisaar failed to win a seat: Yana Toom, a naturalized former Russian citizen, was elected as KESK’s only MEP, with 25,251 votes while Savisaar received only 18,516 votes. KESK’s support remained highly localized, topping the poll in only two locations: in Ida-Viru county, with 59.5% and in the city of Tallinn, with 31.6%. The two smaller parties, IRL and SDE, gained ground and held their single MEP mandate. Independent candidate Indrek Tarand, a colourful former civil servant, journalist and TV personality, was elected to the EP in 2009 on an anti-establishment protest vote, following the decision to switch to closed lists for the 2009 EP election. He won a remarkable 25.8% in 2009, and would have won a second seat if he had another candidate on his list (the seat instead went to SDE, which won only 8.7%); he drew votes across the board, except from KESK. Tarand joined the G-EFA group and has voted with his group colleagues the vast majority of the time. Tarand was reelected with 43,369 votes or 13.2% of the vote.
Turnout: 41% (+0.7%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (votes for candidates only, not party lists; national constituency), possibility for alliances (see Denmark)
KOK (EPP) 22.6% (-0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
KESK (ALDE) 19.7% (+0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
PS (EFD > ECR) 12.9% (+3.1%) winning 2 seats (+1)
SDP (S&D) 12.3% (-5.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
Greens (G-EFA) 9.3% (-3.1%) winning 1 seat (-1)
VAS (GUE-NGL) 9.3% (+3.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SFP-RKP (ALDE) 6.8% (+0.7%) winning 1 seat (nc)
KD (EPP) 5.2% (+1.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Pirates 0.7% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.2% (+0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The senior governing party, the liberal-conservative National Coalition Party (KOK), topped the polls in the EP elections, while the right-populist and Eurosceptic Finns Party (PS) won a strong but unremarkable result.
Finnish politics were shaken up in the 2011 legislative elections by the remarkable performance of Timo Soini’s Finns Party (formerly known as the ‘True Finns’, until we figured out that we were translating the Swedish name of a party opposed to the active use of the Swedish language), a populist and Eurosceptic party which surged from 4% to 19% between the 2007 and 2011 elections. The Eurozone crisis provoked a surge in latent Eurosceptic sentiments in Finland – a fairly propserous state, but which had suffered from the recession in 2009 (Finnish economic growth fell by over 8.5% in 2009). Voters opposed the European bailouts to Greece and Ireland, with Soini’s PS seizing on the idea that Finnish taxpayers were unjustly burdened with the costs of bailing out reckless spenders in the EU; these bailouts were approved by the then-government, led by the Nordic agrarian Centre Party (KESK). A populist party, the Finns Party mixes social conservatism with economic interventionism and a strong defense of the Finnish welfare state; it is also nationalist and anti-establishment, strongly opposed to the EU and NATO, while critical of Finland’s traditional consensus-driven and coalition-based politics and tight-knit political elite. PS is opposed to multiculturalism and mass immigration, and has proposed much stricter laws on asylum seekers, but unlike a lot of the parties it is compared to, immigration is not the focal point of PS campaigns (although it obviously plays an important role). Compared to the right-populist spectrum in Europe, PS is quite moderate. It claims to be a centrist party and indeed grew out of Finland’s strong Nordic agrarian centrist tradition (where ‘centrist’ does not have the same meaning as elsewhere in the EU), and by its policies and behaviour, it tends to align with other relatively moderate right-populist parties such as DF in Denmark. However, the PS caucus includes oddballs with a penchant for racist and xenophobic comments, so that aspect of right-populism is certainly absent from PS.
In the 2011 election, PS managed to ride a wave of popular dissatisfaction with the three leading parties (which had, in the recent past, all polled within a few percent of one another) – the urban centre-right KOK, the rural Nordic agrarian KESK and the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP) related to the Eurozone bailouts, economic worries at home and protest against Finnish consensual politics. The party drew a composite electorate: from the SDP, it gained traditional working-class voters in mill towns; it ate into KESK’s culturally conservative and isolationist rural base – after all, PS grew out of a rural protest party (SMP) which had peaked at 18 seats in the early 1970s. As a result of this shellshock election, in which the three major parties – but also minor parties such as the Greens (Vihr), the Left Alliance (VAS) and the Christian Democrats (KD) – lost votes, PS ended up a strong third (but only a bit over 1% away from first place) with a record 39 seats. The governing KESK suffered the most, losing 7% of its vote and winning a disastrous fourth place with 15.8%. Timo Soini’s non-negotiable opposition to the Portuguese bailout, however, meant that his party was not included in cabinet, which was led by KOK, the pro-European and pro-NATO party which placed first and which supported the bailouts.
The government formed in June 2011 was a very heterogeneous and broad-based coalition including no less than six parties: led by KOK and chaired by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, it included the SDP, Greens, VAS, the KD and the Swedish People’s Party (SFP-RKP, a liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority, a member of every government since 1972). The PS became the largest opposition party, while the KESK, which has historically been included in most government coalitions because of its place as a ‘hinge party’, joined the opposition. Although PS was not a member of the government, the meanings of its remarkable electoral success in 2011 was not lost on Katainen’s new government. Finland took a ‘hardline’ stance in the Eurozone on the issue of bailouts. It was the only country to demand collateral in exchange for agreeing to the second Greek loan and the Spanish bailout; the government submitted the Portuguese and Spanish bailouts to a parliamentary vote; it has favoured rigid requirements for the use of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and opposed using the ESM to purchase bonds on secondary markets. Within the government, finance minister Jutta Urpalainen, the leader of the traditionally pro-European SDP’s leader, took a tough stance on the euro and bailouts. In the opposition, KESK, which had approved the Greek and Irish bailouts while in power and had been broadly pro-European under centrist Prime Ministers Matti Vanhanen and Mari Kiviniemi, signaled a partial return to its historical Eurosceptic roots upon joining the opposition. KESK’s candidate in the 2012 presidential election – senior politician Paavo Väyrynen, a long-standing member of KESK’s Eurosceptic wing – ran a Euro-critical campaign, claiming that the Eurozone would dissolve and supporting a Finnish exit from the common currency. However, while PS’ success in 2011 signaled the existence of a strong Eurosceptic electorate, the 2012 presidential election showed that most Finnish voters remained pro-EU and pro-euro. Timo Soini won only 9.4% as PS’ presidential candidate; Väyrynen won 17.5% of the vote, failing to qualify for the runoff, which opposed eventual winner Sauli Niinistö (KOK) – a very popular pro-European leader – and Pekka Haavisto, the Greens’ progressive and pro-European candidate.
Finland remains a stable, prosperous country with famously high standards of living, a generous welfare system and an excellent educational system. It remains one of the select few countries in the world with an AAA credit rating, and it has jealously sought to protect it. However, Finland suffered from the recession in 2009, and recovery has been slow and difficult – slower than it has been in Sweden, whose economy has performed better (outside of the Eurozone) since the first recession. Finnish GDP contracted by 1% in 2012 and 1.4% in 2013. Finland’s economy has been negatively impacted by Finnish giant Nokia’s financial troubles, and it is burdened with urgent issues such as a rapidly aging population and a major increase in unit labour costs. The government implemented austerity policies, largely made up of spending cuts with some tax increases (the VAT); in 2013, it did cut corporate taxes by 4% to 20%, which was criticized by VAS, which also forced the government to re-evaluate changes to dividends taxation. The government is planning to advance a €9 billion plan to boost employment and productivity through structural reforms to tackle costs stemming from an aging population. These measures include a social and health reform which would place healthcare management in regional, rather than municipal hands; municipal mergers and incentives to extend careers (but under SDP pressure, raising the retirement age from 63 to 67 appears off the table).
In February 2014, amid austerity backlash due to the struggling economy and pressure from VAS, the government announced that it would drop a target to halt debt growth (spending cuts) – either walking back on some austerity measures, spreading cuts over a longer period or balance them between tax hikes and spending cuts. In late March 2014, VAS decided to leave the government, protesting a new austerity package of €2.3 billion worth of tax increases and spending cuts (including benefit payments to families with young children) to balance the books by 2018 and halt growing indebtedness (now over 60% of GDP). VAS had not performed too poorly in opposition, despite vocal opposition to its partaking in a right-leaning government from some far-left parties and party dissidents, but the government’s austerity measures had become too much for the party. The party which has been ruined by government participation is the SDP, the largest junior partner. SDP leader Jutta Urpalainen, was already a fairly mediocre leader before 2011, and the SDP has been in a sorry state for quite some time – its 2009 EP result (17.5%) was the worst SDP performance on record in a national election and in the 2011 it sunk to only 19.2% support. The SDP struggled in government, as Urpalainen implemented austerity policies and took a hard stance on Eurozone matters, somewhat at odds with the SDP’s base; the SDP’s polling declined from 19% in 2011 to 15-16%. This year, Urpalainen was challenged for the party’s leadership by Antti Rinne, a former trade union leader who engaged the SDP’s base with traditional left-wing rhetoric against austerity. Rinne defeated Urpalainen for the SDP leadership on May 9, 2014 and will replace Urpalainen as finance minister. Rinne favours interventionist pro-growth policies, and is critical of some of the government’s policies – he would like to expand a €600 million stimulus package announced a few months ago.
Jyrki Katainen is set to step down in June 2014, eyeing a EU or international job. Three KOK cabinet ministers have lined up to fight a leadership election in June 2014, which will determine Katainen’s successor as Prime Minister and leader of Finland’s largest party.
KOK remained the single largest party in the EP elections, taking just below 23% of the vote and holding its three seats in the EP. The pro-EU centre-right party’s vote is actually up 2.2% on its 2011 result, although because of low turnout it received over 200,000 votes less than it had in 2011. The ruling party received a strong boost in Finland’s candidate-centered electoral system from EU minister Alexander Stubb, a leading contender to succeed Katainen as Prime Minister. He won 148,190 votes, the most votes received by an individual candidate in this election. In 2009, the most popular candidate was Timo Soini, who had won over 130,000 votes. Stubb’s support was evenly distributed throughout southern Finland, the most urbanized and populated part of the country and KOK’s traditional base; he did particularly well in urban centres – Helsinki, Helsinki’s suburbs in Uusimaa region, Tampere, Lahti and suburban Turku. Other KOK MEPs had more localized support: transport minister and MEP-elect Henna Virkkunen dominated around her hometown of Jyväskylä in central Finland while incumbent MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen was strong around Hämeenlinna.
KESK placed second, with a performance similar to 2009 but recording a 3.9% improvement on KESK’s disastrous result in the 2011 election. The Centrists have likely recovered rural voters who had abandoned them for the PS in 2011. In this election, KESK, which includes both a more liberal pro-European wing and a traditionally Eurosceptic and isolationist wing, conciliated both factions in the party with its leading candidates. Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs (known as an advocate of austerity policies) won 70,398 votes – coming in as the third most voted candidate in Finland. Paavo Väyrynen, a former cabinet minister and 2012 presidential candidate from the party’s Eurosceptic wing, won 69,360 votes. Väyrynen boosted KESK’s support considerably in his native Lapland, where he won the most votes of any candidate and where KESK’s support increased by 9.6% since 2009 and 11.8% since 2011 to 44%. KESK also gained 6.4% from 2011 in Oulu region. Incumbent MEP and former Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki was KESK’s third MEP, finding most of her support in and around her hometown of Lapua in Southern Ostrobothnia.
The Finns Party had, like in the 2012 municipal elections, a mixed result. With 13% of the vote, it is a distant third ahead of the SDP, and PS recorded the second strongest vote increase since 2009 of any party – a gain of 3.1%, and also a gain of a second seat in the EP. However, PS’ result is down 6.2% and over 337,000 votes lower than in the 2011 election, where PS won 19% of the vote. It is, in this sense, an unremarkable and underwhelming performance for the right-populist and Eurosceptic movement, which – unlike DF in Denmark – has not increased its support from the last election. At the same time, however, it still shows that PS has solidified itself as a major party in a system which now has four, instead of three, parties in competition for power. At the national level, PS is still polling strongly, generally in the 17-18% range. Its support has not collapsed as some had predicted in 2011. In the EP election, PS’ underperformance likely owes to lower turnout (some anti-EU protest voters may not have showed up, feeling disconnected from and not concerned by the distant issue) but also the lack of Timo Soini, who is a major boost for PS. PS’ top two candidates and MEPs-elect – Jussi Hallo-aho, a PS MP famous for his anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism positions; and Soini’s successor as MEP, Sampo Terho – lacked Soini’s profile, although the fairly prominent and controversial Hallo-aho did draw some strong support throughout Finland, likely with anti-immigration voters. He won over 80,700 votes nationally – the second most voted candidate. PS has been accepted into the more moderate ECR group, ditching UKIP’s EFD (like DF).
The main loser was the SDP, whose support fell by over 5% from 2009 and 6.8% from 2011 (both of which were already record-setting lows). It lost over 348,700 votes since the 2011 election. Although it saved its two MEPs, 12% of the vote remains an unmitigated disaster. Despite a tougher rhetoric to win back disoriented left-wingers and blue-collar males who have defected to PS, the SDP’s new leader Antti Rinne failed to make an impact and himself admitted that his party had taken a slap in the face. The SDP’s leadership contest likely hurt its campaigns: the SDP was deeply divided and its policies a complete mess, because Rinne attacked the fundamentals of the government which the SDP has been a part of since 2011. Worryingly for the party, the SDP’s support with young voters – already a weak demographic for a party with an aging electorate – and middle-class city dwellers has declined, shrinking the SDP to an increasingly old electorate. And with poor results being confirmed in successive elections of all types, this bad result is not a deviation – it’s part of a wider trend, which has seen the SDP’s support decline significantly in recent years. So far, Antti Rinne hasn’t been able to correct that. VAS, on the other hand, had a good election: with 9.3% of the vote, it regained a seat which it had lost in 2009, when the VAS vote declined to 5.9% (and had no alliance with another party to help it out). The party improved its support by 3.4% since 2009 (the most of any party) and by 1.2% from the 2011 election. VAS ‘ presence in government surprisingly turned out fairly well until the party left the government, which allowed it to gain even more support. Unlike the SDP, VAS has successfully communicated its message and renewed itself; distancing itself from its roots in Finland’s powerful pro-Moscow communist party of the Cold War years. It has renewed its electorate somewhat, with a young and urban electorate (students, low-wage employees, social workers) adding to a traditional base of working-class unionized workers. Unlike the SDP, which has failed to respond to change effectively. In this election, VAS overtook the SDP in Helsinki (12% vs 11.7%) and Turku (15.6% vs. 13%).
The Greens lost one seat and over 3% from 2009, which had been an exceptionally good year for the Greens (who took over 12% and gained a seat). The Greens’ result, however, is up 2% on what they polled in 2011, a disappointing year for the party. The SFP, the liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish minority (about 5% of the population), saved its single MEP. During the campaign, SFP was said to be at risk of losing its seat, which it had held since the first Finnish EP election in 1996. Instead, the SFP increased its support by 0.7% from 2009 (and over 2% from 2011). This is due to stronger turnout in Swedish municipalities in Ostrabothnia and the 90%-Swedish Åland archipelago; very likely motivated to save the SFP’s seat against the PS, which has strong anti-Swedish (against bilingualism) stances against which Finnish Swedes have mobilized. In the Åland archipelago, turnout increased from 48% to 57%, while the SFP won no less than 90.5% of the vote against 2.4% for the SDP.
The KDs lost their sole MEP, even if they ironically took their best result in an EP election. Incumbent KD MEP Sari Essayah won 61,264 votes – the fifth most voted candidate in Finland. However, in 2009, the KDs had salvaged their seat thanks to an electoral alliance with PS. This year, the small socially conservative party ran without an alliance with another party, and thus lost its seat.
YLE has a map showing the preferential votes for the candidates by municipality, while their results interface allows you to drill down to the municipal level for some party results (and also offers maps of party support and turnout). The patterns were nothing unusual. KESK won the vast majority of the land area, by virtue of the party’s solid base in the bulk of sparsely populated rural municipalities and small towns in Finland. KESK won its best results in the Finnish municipalities in rural Ostrobothnia (Oulu and Vaasa constituencies) – a religious and conservative rural region. However, KOK won nearly every major city in Finland except the northern city of Oulu (which went to KESK): Helsinki (28%), Espoo (a wealthy suburb of Helsinki, with 39.5% for KOK), Vantaa (a less affluent Helsinki suburb, 27%), Turku (26%), Tampere (27%), Jyväskylä (20.7%), Lahti (29%) and even topped the poll in some traditionally left-leaning industrial towns such as Pori, Rauma, Lapeenranta and Hämeenlinna. The largest city which the SDP won is Imatra, a mill town of some 28,000 people. It won 20.9% in Rauma, a major harbour and industrial city; but in Pori, a neighboring industrial city of over 83,000 people, the SDP placed third with 17.3% (PS won 18.7%, it had won the city in 2011). The SDP was also third in Kotka, a major harbour for the lumber industry (PS won 21%, in second behind KOK; the SDP won there in 2011); fourth in the railway town of Kouvola (14.3%, PS won 20% but was nearly 8% lower than in 2011); and third in Lapeenranta (with 15%, down over 10 points from 2011), an old mill town. In Joensuu, an old lumber town in Northern Karelia which is now a college town, the SDP placed second (behind KESK) with 19.3%, ahead of the Greens whose fell fell by 9 points to 15%. Overall, the SDP won 19%, its best result, in Northern Karelia. The Greens did very well (but less so than in 2009) in college towns and major cities: Helsinki on top with 19.8%, but also Tampere (16%) and Joensuu (15.4%). VAS did well in the cities, college towns too but also in industrial towns (13.7% in Pori) and northern Finland. The north of the country has a tradition of ‘backwoods communism’, with strong communist (now VAS) support from loggers and the rural working-classes. VAS placed second in Lapland and Oulu. In this election, VAS did very well around Suomussalmi (50.7%) and Kajaani (41%) in the northeastern region of Kainuu – this is a personal vote for VAS’ new MEP, Merja Kyllönen, a former transportation minister, MP and former municipal councillor from Suomussalmi. She dominated the field of candidates in the region.
Later: Germany, Greece, Hungary and Italy
Special European parliamentary elections were held in Croatia on April 14, 2013 to elect Croatia’s 12 members of the European Parliament for the remainder of the EP’s 2009-2014 term. Croatia’s MEPs are elected in a single nationwide constituency using open list proportional representation. Croatia will formally become the 28th member state of the European Union (EU) on July 1, 2013.
Two-thirds of Croatians voted in favour of joining the European Union in a referendum in January 2012, although turnout was only 43.5%. Croatia’s accession process formally began in June 2004 when it became an official candidate country and negotiations between Zagreb and Brussels were launched in October 2005 and lasted until June 2011. Public opinion had generally been strongly supportive of EU membership, with the exception of a brief period in April 2011 after the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) sentenced Croatian war hero Ante Gotovina to 24 years in jail for war crimes/crimes against humanity in the Croatian war of independence in the early 1990s. Gotovina and fellow general Mladen Markač were later found innocent on all charges and their convictions overturned by the ICTY’s appeals panel in November 2012.
The Kukuriku, a centre-left multi-party alliance led by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), won the December 2011 election defeating the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) which had been in power since 2003. In the 1990s, the HDZ was a hard-right nationalist party led by Franjo Tuđman, a controversial strongman whose policies during the war years and the turbulent 90s isolated the country diplomatically. The HDZ was voted out of office in 2000, replaced by a heterogeneous reformist coalition around Prime Minister Ivica Račan (SDP) and President Stjepan Mesić (left-liberal HNS). Račan’s government, rapidly crippled by divisions between coalition members, only lasted until 2003 but under his and President Mesić’s leadership, Croatia gradually emerged from the semi-isolation of the Tuđman era and placed on the road to EU membership. The HDZ, transformed into a pro-European centre-right party under Ivo Sanader, won the 2003 elections by a decisive margin and was narrowly reelected in 2007.
While Sanader’s first term was generally successful because of a strong economy and EU negotiations, the second term proved to be a disaster from which the HDZ has yet to fully recover from. Croatia was hit particularly badly by the onset of the economic crisis in 2009-2010, which wrecked economic growth. Public opinion responded very poorly to the HDZ’s austerity policies, which included a very unpopular hike in the VAT and the introduction of a new ‘crisis’ income tax. Ivo Sanader resigned in the summer of 2009, and he was succeeded by Jadranka Kosor. Around the same time, Sanader himself and the HDZ as a whole were hit by a whole slew of particularly egregious corruption scandals. While Kosor herself was probably not directly involved and she took a hardline stance against corruption once in office, the whole thing blew up in her party’s face once prosecutors started digging and unearthing some pretty big corruption scandals – many of them involving Sanader himself. In January 2010, his ploy to reclaim the party’s leadership was foiled and in December, the Parliament voted to strip his immunity. He initially fled across the border to Austria, but he was arrested on an Interpol arrest warrant within hours. Sanader was sentenced to ten years in prison in November 2012.
Crippled by the stench of corruption and the economic crisis, Jadranka Kosor’s HDZ was handily defeated by SDP leader Zoran Milanović’s Kukuriku centre-left coalition in the 2011 elections. Although he was elected on a vaguely anti-austerity and broadly left-leaning agenda, Milanović’s government has been forced to tackle the economic crisis and the country’s large budgetary deficit – unsurprisingly, in the form of austerity measures and economic reforms which have included major public spending cuts, pension reforms, the sell of state assets (privatizations) and the liberalization of foreign investment. The country’s economy remains in a weak position: it has very low credit ratings, the GDP shrank by 2% in 2012 and it is still projected to be negative this year, unemployment is still rising exponentially (now up to 17%) and debt repayments combined with new EU contributions will frustrate the government’s objective of reducing the deficit in line with IMF recommendations. The IMF projects the country’s deficit will be 4.25% of GDP this year.
The government has also faced a few low-intensity scandals or embarrassing affairs. In November 2012, the Vice Premier and leader of the largest junior coalition party (HNS-LD) Radimir Čačić resigned after he was sentenced to 22 months in jail by a Hungarian court over a car crash he caused in 2010 resulting in the death of two people. In March 2013, the tourism minister was forced to resign after a media investigation revealed details about how his family had profited from a real estate deal in Istria.
In October 2012, the government was rattled by a bizarre affair likely orchestrated by the right-wing opposition which has since blown up in the opposition’s face. The right-wing newspaper Večernji list alleged that Interior Minister Ranko Ostojić had been illegally tapping the phones of intelligence operatives. The left-wing newspaper Jutarnji list countered with claims that the intelligence operatives were tracked because of suspected contacts with the mafia, and accused HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko and Večernji list of creating a fake scandal to discredit the government. The weird scandal backfired on the opposition – in December, Ostojić ordered an investigation into a spying scandal from Karamarko’s days as Interior Minister. Karamarko is accussed of tracking Attorney General Mladen Bajić and several journalists.
The government has become fairly unpopular, with its approval ratings down to 30% and its polling numbers down nearly ten points from its 2011 result (40%). But, thus far, the HDZ has struggled to profit from the government’s unpopularity. It remains badly tainted with the corruption scandals from its last term in office, and the stench refuses to go away. Indeed, the party itself is currently on trial for corruption. Former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor lost the party leadership in May 2012, placing third in a leadership election won by Tomislav Karamarko, who appears more right-wing and nationalistic than recent HDZ leaders. Kosor was recently expelled from the party. The main beneficiary, instead, of the government’s declining popularity have been the Labourists (Hrvatski laburisti), a new left-wing party which won 5.1% and 6 seats in 2011. Claiming to represent the working-classes, the Labourists oppose austerity policies.
The SDP ran a common list with the left-liberal HNS-LD and the main pensioners’ party (HSU). The HDZ ran a common list with the nationalistic right-wing Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević (HSP AS, one seat in 2011) and a smaller pensioners’ party. The Croatian Peasants’ Party (HSS) and the Social Liberals (HSLS) ran a common list and the right-wing regionalistic Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB) ran with smaller allied parties. The small regionalist Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), although a governing party in the current coalition, ran its own separate list led by IDS leader and Istria County head Ivan Jakovčić.
Turnout in these EU elections was an utterly catastrophic 20.84% – certainly one of the lowest turnouts in any EU election (besides Slovakia). Very low turnout in EU elections is the norm in the newer member states in eastern Europe, where any original enthusiasm for joining the EU has certainly not translated into any interest into the EU Parliament. Besides the fact that basically nobody in Croatia or in the rest of the EU for that matter actually cares about the EU Parliament or actually knows what it does, this particular election was very low-key. The major elections will be local and county elections in May, this election was a dress rehearsal for those elections in which no party placed tons of efforts or attention.
HDZ-HSP AS-BUZ 32.86% winning 6 seats
SDP-HNS-HSU 32.07% winning 5 seats
Labourists 5.77% winning 1 seat
HSS-HSLS 3.86% winning 0 seats
Ivan Jakovčić (IDS) 3.84% winning 0 seats
HDSSB 3.01% winning 0 seats
Croatian Growth 2.55% winning 0 seats
Youth Action 1.49% winning 0 seats
Pensioners’ Party 1.48% winning 0 seats
HSP 1.39% winning 0 seats
Greens 1.16% winning 0 seats
Pirate Party 1.13% winning 0 seats
All others 9.39% winning 0 seats
The centre-right opposition coalition led by the HDZ eked out a surprise victory, taking six of the country’s 12 seats. Whereas sparse polling prior to the election had shown them trailing the governing SDP-led coalition by a fairly substantial margin and on track to win only 4 or 5 seats, it came out ahead by a whisker. At cause here is probably the low turnout. When turnout is so low, elections are even more unpredictable and even good pollsters will have lots of trouble accurately predicting the outcome – because tons of voters lie to them by saying that they will certainly vote when in fact a lot/most end up not voting. Therefore, given the low turnout it is hard to interpret this election as a significant defeat for the governing coalition – their real test will be in the local elections next month, where turnout will be much higher and the stakes fairly high as well. Nevertheless, it remains an unwelcome surprise for the government.
The HDZ’s list was likely boosted by the presence of Ruža Tomašić, the leader of the right-wing/far-right HSP AS, who was sixth on the party’s list but who won the most preference votes of any candidates on the list – she won 26.6% of all votes cast for the lists’ candidates. Tomašić is a prominent anti-corruption crusader who gained notoriety – and controversy – recently by saying that “Croatia is for Croatians” and that the “others” are just “guests”. It is unclear whether she will join her five HDZ colleagues in the European People’s Party (EPP) group.
It also helps that the HDZ tends to be very good at turning out voters and motivating its electorate, something which has allowed it to outperform the SDP in close elections – such as the 2007 legislative election or the 2009 local elections.
The Labourists too will be disappointed by their performance. National polling consistently gives them about 10% of voting intentions and they had a solid chance to win two seats in this election. Their result, barely above their 2011 result percentage-wise, was disappointing for them.
As is usually the case in EU elections, a whole slew of tiny parties and third parties did very well. 29% of voters cast votes for parties or lists which did not win any seats, over 9% cast votes for lists which did not even win over 1% of the vote. In Istria, Ivan Jakovčić’s list won 44.5% of the vote in the county. The HDSSB also did quite well, polling up to 22.5% in Osijek-Baranja County.
Unsurprisingly, the first EU elections in Croatia were marked by apathy and general indifference. Surprisingly, however, the governing party which had been expected to win ended up narrowly losing – the sign of rising discontent with the young left-wing government in the midst of recession and austerity, or just a quirk from low turnout?
A referendum on the EU accession of Croatia was held on January 22 in Croatia. On December 9, Croatia signed a Treaty of Accession but a referendum on the matter is constitutionally mandated. If all 27 member states ratify Croatia’s accession, the country should become the EU’s 28th member state on July 1, 2013.
Croatia’s accession process formally began in June 2004 when it became an official candidate country and negotiations between Zagreb and Brussels were launched in October 2005 and lasted until June 2011. Croatia faced two main challenges in the accession process: full cooperation by Zagreb with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and a border dispute with Slovenia. In June 2001, the ICTY charged Croatian general Ante Gotovina – a Croatian hero because of his role in the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s – with crimes against humanity, but Gotovina fled into hiding for four years day before an arrest warrant was handed down. He was arrested in Spain in 2005 and convicted to 24 years in jail in April 2011. While Croatian governments post-2001 have been willing to cooperate with the ICTY, public opinion has proven to be far more nationalist on the issue as Gotovina is still well regarded by most Croats as an hero of the country’s war of independence against the Serbs. There was an ephemeral surge in Eurosceptic nationalist sentiment in Croatia in April following Gotovina’s conviction. Until 2010, finally, Slovenia, an EU member, had blocked Croatia’s accession process because of a territorial dispute between the two countries (explained in full on Wikipedia) which was resolved in 2009 and ratified by referendum in Slovenia in 2010. Corruption and foreign land ownership (notably by Italians in Istria, which was Italian until the end of World War II) also proved to be contentious issues.
All major parties in Croatia are supportive of European integration. The conservative HDZ, in power until late last year, moved away from the authoritarian nationalism of the Tuđman era to traditional pro-European modern conservatism, especially under the leadership of former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. Following Tuđman’s death, the election in 2000 of a Social Democratic government led by Ivica Račan and a liberal President, Stjepan Mesić, kicked off the accession process by transforming Croatia into a modern liberal democratic society. These policies were continued, enthusiastically, by the conservative governments of Ivo Sanader and Jadranska Kosor. No parliamentary party seems to have clearly said it is against EU membership – only far-right movements such as the Croatian Party of Rights have done so – but Dragutin Lesar’s Labour Party and the conservative-regionalist HDSSB both called for delaying the vote to allow for what they claim would be a fairer campaign by both sides.
The results were as follows:
Do you support membership of Croatia in the EU?
It is a fairly resounding victory for European integration, with two thirds of voters in support, but it is tarred a bit by the low turnout: only 43.51% of voters turned out to vote, which has led the far-right to say that 71% of voters either did not vote or rejected membership. I don’t know what to attribute low turnout to, but it is likely motivated by the sense that the resounding victory of the yes was an inevitability and that voting would not change much to what seems to be a fait accompli. The campaign – which was very short – did not seem particularly active or interesting. Besides, the opponents surely did not have the mobilization and financial resources of the yes side and could not really mount a major campaign of opposition. The government also warned that popular rejection of EU accession would cost Croatia 1.6 billion € of lost European funding.
Despite the low turnout, it is fairly clear that Croatian public opinion remains favourable to the EU. It seems a bit crazy for any country to be rushing to join the European Union in the midst of the European debt crisis in which the EU as an institution has fared pretty poorly. Enthusiasm has perhaps been diminished a bit by the debt crisis, but European integration probably retains much support because Croatia is due to receive 3.5 billion € in European funds over two years once it joins in 2013.
The map of the vote is quite interesting. I had expected opposition to be highest in the conservative and nationalist areas bordering Bosnia in Slavonia and Lika – basically the old war zones covering the territory of the old breakaway republic of Serbian Krajina in the 1990s. Nationalist parties and candidates have always performed best in that poor and rural region, but in the referendum there was little discernible difference between the vote in those regions and the national average. In some cases, such as in Slavonia, support was even higher than the national average. Opposition was highest in the counties of Split (40.7%) and Dubrovnik (42%). Politically, these two counties tend to be conservative, but they act less nationalistic as they lie outside the war zones. Dubrovnik especially and Split to a lesser extent are important tourist destinations, which makes the low support for European integration kind of puzzling. My only uneducated theory about the low support for European integration in Split and Dubrovnbik is that these two counties – which border the heavily Croatian counties of Bosnia – have closer economic ties with Bosnia. Dubrovnik county itself is split in two by Bosnia’s 20km-long seacoast in Neum, and the economic implications of this might have something to do with the level of support for EU membership. The northern inland county of Koprivnica-Križevci also saw pretty high opposition, just below 40%. I was a bit surprised support was just 68% in Istria, which has a reputation for being a liberal, tolerant and internationally-oriented place. Perhaps the issue of foreign land ownership by Italians played a role? At any rate, the map is rather interesting and I do hope somebody, someday, will do more research on the topic.
Legislative elections were held in Croatia on December 4, 2011. All 151 members of the Croatia’s unicameral Parliament, the Hrvatski Sabor, were up for reelection. 140 members are elected in ten electoral districts which each return 14 members. There is no national threshold, but parties must win 5% of the vote in a constituency to qualify for seats there. The districts are meant to be equal in size, but since their creation in 2000 they have become more unequal: this year, 230k votes were cast on average in each but the difference ranges from 206k in one to 261k votes in another. 8 seats are elected in a single non-geographical constituency for national minorities: 3 seats for Serbs, 1 for Hungarians, 1 for Italians, 1 for Czechs and Slovaks, 1 for Austrian, Bulgarian, German, Polish, Roma, Romanian, Ruthenian, Russian, Vlach and Jewish minorities, and one seat for Albanians, Bosniaks, Montenegrins, Macedonians and Slovenians. A fixed number of 3 members are elected to represent the Croatian diaspora, which in practice means Croatians in Bosnia and Herzegovina who often have the dual nationality.
In Slovenia, we had seen that politics are still in a state of flux and that there is no stable, long-lasting party system on the near horizon. In Croatia however, politics have stabilized quite remarkably since 2000 which marks the emergence of the country’s present party system.
Talking of a natural governing party in a country which is only 20 years old is rather ridiculous, but the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) has since independence fit that mold pretty well. The HDZ was born as a hard-right nationalist party led by a man, Franjo Tuđman, with some pretty authoritarian tendencies. Under Tuđman’s rule, Croatia suffered from high unemployment, controversial privatization policies, limited press freedoms and isolation on the international scene in the wake of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. By the time of his death in 1999, his charm as the father of the nation had started to wear off. The mood was increasingly favourable to Europeanization and further democratization of the system.
In 2000, the opposition – divided between Dražen Budiša’s Social Liberals (HSLS) and Ivica Račan’s post-communist Social Democrats (SDP) formed a coalition. Ivica Račan, as Prime Minister and Stjepan Mesić, as President entered office in 2000 with high hopes that they would be the reformers who would drag Croatia out of its semi-isolationist, authoritarian and nationalist past. However, Račan’s composite government allying growingly right-wing Social Liberals, the agrarian Peasant Party (HSS), the regionalist IDS and the left-liberal People’s Party (HNS) soon became rift with factionalism between the partners and Račan seen as inefficient. Budiša started appearing nationalistic on the issue of deporting Croatian generals to be tried for war crimes at the ICTY, and the coalition between the two top partners soon collapsed. Račan managed to remain in office until November 2003 with the support of HSLS dissidents who went on to join the HNS.
In the 2003 elections, despite having moved Croatia firmly onto the European scene and benefiting from stable economic growth, Račan was decisively defeated by the HDZ. In the meantime, the HDZ had moved away from the hard-right nationalism of the Tuđman era and, under Ivo Sanader’s leadership, was able to be seen as a modern, moderate pro-European conservative party. While originally firmly against the ICTY indictments, Sanader quickly changed tone and defeated the party’s hard-right faction to place it on a firmly pro-European centre-right axis. Under Sanader’s leadership, Croatia inched closer to joining the EU – that is likely what Sanader will be remembered for. He was reelected in 2007, narrowly defeating Zoran Milanović’s SDP in what was perhaps the closest election to date in Croatia.
The second term proceded to become a massive train wreck. On the one hand, Croatia was a victim of the global recession: unemployment reached 12% in 2010 and is rising, the country’s debt went from 28% of the GDP to 47.5% in 2011, the economy shrunk by 6% in 2010 and recovery is slow and a large deficit. The government was forced to implement unpopular measures to deal with the economic situation of the country.
In July 2009, Sanader resigned from office and was replaced by Jadranska Kosor. Her popularity dwindled almost instantly after the introduction of a new income tax (styled crisis tax) and a 1% hike in the VAT. Simultaneously, the HDZ as a whole became embroiled in a series of corruption allegations. Kosor does not seem to be directly involved in the bulk of them, though whether she knew of them prior to becoming Prime Minister is up for debate. At any rate, Kosor’s more hardline stance on corruption would blow up in her face as prosecutors started unearthing pretty stinging corruption cases against senior HDZ members – especially Ivo Sanader.
Following the HDZ’s thumping in the 2009-2010 presidential election, Sanader – likely because he was starting to sweat from the corruption allegations which were inching closer to him – decided that he wanted to take back the party. In January, his attempts to stage an internal coup failed and he was expelled from the party on Kosor’s orders – giving her a small boost in popularity. In December, right before the Sabor was to remove his immunity, Sanader fled the country only to be arrested hours later in Austria on an Interpol warrant. Deported to Croatia, Sanader is currently rotting in jail awaiting trial on counts of bribery, corruption and so forth. While some have praised Kosor’s politically unfortunate anti-corruption drive, it certainly did not help matters for her party which on top of that suffers the effects of the economic crisis and the unpopularity of the government’s measures.
Starting in November 2010, the main opposition forces coalesced into a single coalition reminisicent of Račan’s SDP-HSLS coalition in 2000. Along Zoran Milanović’s SDP (56 seats in 2007), the other allies were the left-liberal People’s Party (HNS-LD) which had won 7 seats in 2007, the regionalist Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS) which had two seats and the Pensioners Party (HSU) which won a single seat in 2007. Originally known as the ‘Alliance for Change’, it adopted the wonderful name (really, they ought to get a prize for being so original) Kukuriku coalition – named after the restaurant where they first met in 2009 and which literally means ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ (in French, cocorico). Kukuriku’s platform is called ‘Plan 21’.
The HDZ allied with two minor parties of the centre-right in a few constituencies. Besides the two main blocks, there was a new party – the left-populist Croatian Labourists – Labour Party led by former HNS MP Dragutin Lesar. Other parties include the right-regionalist Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB), founded by controversial former HDZ defense minister Branimir Glavaš (who is a remnant of the HDZ’s 1990s orientation as a hard-right nationalist party); the far-right Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and the agrarian right-wing Peasant Party (HSS). The HSLS, formerly the HDZ’s junior ally, entered the election with no seats after its two MPs had defected following the party’s decision to pull out of the coalition.
Apparently the government can’t be bothered to give us the national results, so all results at a national level are my calculations, which seem pretty accurate though perhaps not down to the decimal level. Turnout was 61.8% in Croatia, and 5% for the diaspora – 80% of the votes cast in the diaspora constituency came from Bosnia. The Kukuriku coalition’s results are compared to the combined sum total of SDP, HNS, IDS and HSU lists in 2007. No comparison can be made for HSS, HSLS and PGS as they all formed a single coalition in 2007 (6.5%). Please let me know if the national results are ever published officially.
Kukuriku (SDP-HNS-IDS-HSU) 40.72% (-2.88%) winning 80 seats (+13)
HDZ and allies 23.93% (-12.67%) winning 47 seats (-19)
Labourists 5.17% (+5.17%) winning 6 seats (+6)
HSLS 3.1% winning 0 seats (-2)
HSP 3.07% (-0.43%) winning 0 seats (-1)
HSS 3.04% winning 1 seat (-5)
HDSSB 2.93% (+1.13%) winning 6 seats (+3)
BUZ-PGS 2.85% winning 0 seats (nc)
Ivan Grubišić 2.82% (+2.82%) winning 2 seats (+2)
HSP-dr. Ante Starčević 2.81% (+2.81%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Others 9.56% winning 0 seats
National minorities winning 8 seats (nc) – including 3 SDSS, 1 Kukuriku-HNS
The HDZ was never expected to win, but during the campaign it failed to stop the bleeding and it was unable to keep a bad election from turning into a rout as it did. The HDZ won its worst result ever and for the first time in its history, it will not be the largest party in the Sabor. 2011 really is a bloodbath for those ‘natural governing parties’ around the world. The result, in my eyes, is not entirely Kosor’s fault as she appears to be a fairly well-intentioned person who has been forced to make unpopular decisions (whether they are good is up to you) in circumstances beyond her control and whose tougher stance on corruption only led to the total collapse of the HDZ around her as its former leader ended up canned and other senior members forced to resign for putting their hands in the jelly too often. The HDZ has suffered a rout, which is far worst than the one they had suffered (kind of) in 2000, but yet I have a hard time imagining a scenario where they collapse into oblivion.
Kukuriku has won a convincing victory and a comfortable majority to boot. What I find most interesting is that the combined sum total of all of Kukuriku’s components in 2007 is actually higher than what it won this year. The SDP and HNS probably lost some voters to Lesar’s new Labourist party, which I’d love to find out more about and understand the reasons behind their success. In other cases, some of those parties’ individual voters in 2007 might not have voted for the SDP-dominated Kukuriku coalition this year.
As in so many cases, after phenomenal victory comes the harsh realities of governance. This is especially true these days, where opposition parties often win huge victories over unpopular incumbents but wake up the next day with a deficit, debt and unemployment rate which is just as huge. Croatia’s new Prime Minister find himself in this situation. The anti-corruption campaign was nice, but the main problem in Croatia is unemployment and the general anemic economy. Plan 21 – the coalition’s program – is, as is typical, full of flowery rhetoric and the usual assumptions that governments can do anything they please like in a cocoon. Stuff like ‘re-industrialization’ of sorts towards an export-oriented growth will likely go out the window along with the rhetoric about neoliberalism being negative and the need for a fairer society. For starters, the incoming government has shown itself quite receptive to asking the IMF for a loan – something which the HDZ had resisted. Kukuriku’s leaders otherwise seem pretty lucid about the reality they find themselves thrown into. Milanović will also need to prevent his grand coalition from turning into a mess like Račan’s coalition had ended up as. Will the SDP’s coalition partners, notably the HNS and IDS, stick together with the SDP as the Kukuriku coalition faces the economic crisis?
Another issue which the incoming government will be faced it is that of Croatia’s membership in the EU. The adhesion process is now completed and is awaiting ratification in a referendum likely to be held early next year. Milanović does not seem to be a top fan of European integration, but the HNS which will likely get the foreign ministry is very much pro-European. The local fallout of the Eurozone crisis and the general chaotic state of affairs in the EU will be interesting to follow. Up till this point, opinion is generally comfortably in favour of joining the EU although there was a spike of nationalism in April 2011 following General Ante Gotovina’s sentencing by the ICTY.
In terms of third parties, it was new third parties rather than older third parties which had a good outing. The main surprise was the rather unexpected strong showing of Dragutin Lesar’s new populist left-wing Labourists, who won 6 seats. They performed strongest in more left-wing northern central Croatia and Istria, but did poorly in Slavonia and Dalmatia. The other surprise of the election was the surprise performance of an independent list led by Ivan Grubišić, a former Roman Catholic priest who ran on an anti-corruption and ethics platform. His performance was regionally concentrated in Split and southern Dalmatia (district 10). He won 11.7% of the vote and two seats in that district. On the far-right, the HSP was swept out and replaced on that front by a splinter, the “HSP-dr. Ante Starčević” – which seems even further to the right – which won 6% and a single seat in district 10. Although not as new as either of the three new parties who gained entrance into the Sabor, the election was marked by the strong showing of the right-wing regionalist HDSSB who had ran on a very much anti-HDZ decentralist platform. Likely taking the bulk of its votes from the HDZ and HSP (whose support in 2007 mostly came from Slavonia), the HDSSB won 6 seats with 21.7% in district 4 and 11.5% in district 5.
On the other hand, older third parties performed rather poorly. The HSS, the HDZ’s junior coalition partner, suffered its worst result ever winning only 3% of the vote and being reduced to a single seat (district 2, where it won 6%). The HSLS had found itself without any members in the Sabor after its two members defected from the party in disagreement over its decision to pull out of government. Running alone, HSLS won only 3% of the vote and failed to win a single seat.
The electoral map of Croatia, in particular HDZ’s traditional strongholds, bear a close resemblance to the map of the war zones in the country during the conflict of the 1990s. A similar pattern had been seen in the 2010 presidential runoff. The HDZ performs strongest in those areas which were part of Serbian Krajina or were located close enough to the breakaway Serbian entity to have suffered heavily during the war – namely Lika, Dalmatia and Slavonia. I suspect there may be other factors at play too, but the resemblance is rather striking and becomes even more striking when the HDZ is reduced to its core bases in years like 2011.
Kukuriku’s support was concentrated in Zagreb, northern Croatia and most of northern Croatia. In Istria (to be fair, district 8 which includes Rijeka and some coastal areas which are not Istrian), where the regionalist IDS was party with the coalition, Kukuriku won 57% to the HDZ’s 12.2%. Istria had been a frustration for HDZ in the party’s heyday of the 1990s, when Istria often proved the lone holdout of opposition to the Tuđman regime. It has since remained one of the HDZ’s weakest regions. Istria has a small Italian minority, but what seems to define it as politically unique nowadays is a tradition of inter-ethnic tolerance (at the turn of the century, Istria was much more ethnically heterogeneous) which has bred a strong regional identity and particularism.
Istria also speaks the Chakavian dialect of Croatian, a dialect which is regionally concentrated in Istria and the islands of the Adriatic along the Dalmatian coast. There is another striking resemblance between the electoral map and dialectical map: the areas speaking the Chakavian and Kaikavian dialect of Croatian (Kaikavian is spoken in northern and central Croatia) tend to be the most left-leaning areas, while Shtokavian dialectical regions – Lika, Dalmatia and Slavonia – tend to be right-leaning. The difference between Chakavian areas and Shtokavian areas along the Dalmatian coast was particularly visible in the 2010 presidential runoff. There might be other factors coming into play, but this is another case of pretty interesting resemblances.
The runoff of the Croatian presidential election was held on January 10, 2010. The runoff for the rather symbolic office of President opposed Ivo Josipović of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) to the Independent/former SDP Mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandić.
The campaign between the two opponents was rather bloody, with Bandić notably accusing Josipović of being a puppet of the SDP’s leader, Zoran Milanović (a major rival of Bandić) and that he would be a ‘tele-guided’ President and not an ‘independent’ President. Somewhat interestingly, Bandić also used the issue of religion against the agnostic Josipović by claiming that he himself was a devout Catholic and had the support of the Church.
However, with most of the political establishment behind Josipović (except for the governing HDZ, which remained neutral) and only limited political support for Bandić, Bandić’s efforts were mostly last-ditch attempts and they didn’t pay off. He trailed by a large margin in all polls, notably by 17% in the last poll on January 7.
Ivo Josipović (SDP) 60.26%
Milan Bandić (Ind) 39.74%
Bandić’s only victory was in Lika-Senj County, which was the same county which HDZ candidate Andrija Hebrang won in the first round. Bandić, who was born in Bosnia and is a Bosnian Croat, did best in the coastal regions along the Adriatic – a lot of which is former Serbian Krajina territory and electorally the base of the HDZ. He also did well in various communities near the northern Bosnian border, a number of which were part of Serbian Krajina. That being said, his vote in those places was ethnically Croat: Bandić’s appeal as a rather right-wing populist candidate probably played a big role. The Serbian minority in Croatia, which is now only 5% or so but a majority in a number of municipalities, voted in large numbers for Josipović (such should be obvious. Croatian Serbs voting for a Bosnian Croat are things that cannot happen). For those who are interested by Balkan ethnic minorities (like me) please see this map of Serbs in Croatia and this map of the results by municipality. On the other hand, Josipović blew Bandić out of the water big time along the Slovenian border and in Istria (16.6% for Bandić), whose inhabitants’ political views are much more moderate, probably due to the history of the peninsula. In Zagreb, where Bandić is mayor, there was no favourite-son vote to be seen and Josipović won 62.2%: above national average. There was, however, a kind of favourite son vote from Croat citizens voting from Bosnia, winning 94.3% of the vote there.
Croatia held the first round of a presidential election on Sunday, December 27. Croatia’s President occupies a largely ceremonial role, though he commands the armed forces, generally leads the country’s foreign policy and is in charge of nominating the Prime Minister following elections. Incumbent President Stjepan Mesić was first elected in 2000 and easily re-elected in 2005 and is not eligible to seek a third term.
Croatia’s President cannot be a member of any political party while in office, and these elections are much less ‘partisan’ than regular legislative elections. For example, Mesić was originally a member of the liberal centre-right Croatian People’s Party (HNS), which is a rather weak party in Parliament.
The Social Democrats (SDP), currently the main opposition to the right-wing government of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), nominated Ivo Josipović, a rather moderate law professor at the University of Zagreb. Josipović has the support of the SDP’s leader, Zoran Milanović and was the party’s leadership preferred candidate over the controversial populist Mayor of Zagreb, Milan Bandić, re-elected earlier this year. Bandić has had very poor relations with Milanović, and he did not even run as a candidate in the SDP primaries. Instead, he announced his candidacy independently of his party, which led him to be expelled from the party. Ivo Josipović campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, and also attacked the government’s economic policies. Bandić, on the other hand, led a traditional populist campaign stressing that he focused on ‘work’ (his excuse for not attending a debate, the real reason being he’s a bad debater) and that he was not a traditional politician. Bandić also attacked Josipović as a the tool of Milanović, the SDP leader.
The nomination of the right also led to expulsions. The HDZ, which forms government nationally, has been hurt by the economic crisis and most recently the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader in July 2009. Sanader, prior to his resignation, was considered a likely candidate for President, but following his resignation he endorsed former HDZ cabinet minister Andrija Hebrang. While there were no primaries per se, many analysts believed that Nadan Vidošević, a HDZ businessman, was also considering a run. Dragan Primorac, former Minister of Education, also resigned from cabinet in July 2009, apparently because he was not the party’s candidate. Vidošević announced his candidacy in September, and Primorac announced his candidacy in November 2009. Both were expelled from the party, and Hebrang later called them traitors to their party.
Other candidates included Vesna Pusić, the leader of the liberal pro-European Croatian People’s Party–Liberal Democrats, Miroslav Tuđman, son of former nationalist (HDZ) President Franjo Tuđman. Damir Kajin was the candidate of the Istrian Democratic Assembly, a regionalist party demanding a special status of autonomy for Istria. Josip Jurčević, a far-right candidate; Boris Mikšić, a right-wing populist who ran in 2005 (17.78%); Vesna Škare-Ožbolt, a former HDZ Justice Minister now a member of the Democratic Centre; and Slavko Vukšić of the Democratic Party of Slavonia Plain also ran.
Ivo Josipović (SDP) 32.42%
Milan Bandić (Ind-SDP diss) 14.83%
Andrija Hebrang (HDZ) 12.04%
Nadan Vidošević (Ind-HDZ diss) 11.33%
Vesna Pusić (HNS-LD) 7.25%
Dragan Primorac (Ind-HDZ diss) 5.93%
Miroslav Tuđman (Ind) 4.09%
Damir Kajin (IDS) 3.87%
Josip Jurčević (Ind) 2.74%
Boris Mikšić (Ind) 2.1%
Vesna Škare-Ožbolt (Ind-DC) 1.89%
Slavko Vukšić (DSSR)
Turnout was 43.96%.
The election is a strong victory for the SDP, whose vote share is similar to its current share of the vote in polls for the 2011 legislative election. While Hebrang’s third-place is a strong showing compared to polls showing him in fourth or even fifth, his 12% result is an absolute low for the HDZ nationally. Of course, his showing should not be spun into a massive defeat of the right: the three HDZ candidates together polled 29.3%. Furthermore, adding the results obtained by small right-wing (and far-right) candidates as well as the HNS-LD gives the ‘large right’ around 47.4% of the vote. Bandić, with 14.8%, performed relatively well, but he only won 15.6% in Zagreb, his electoral base.
Kajin’s strong showing, especially in Istria (35%) is rather interesting given that the IDS only won 18% in Istria in the 2007 election. Probably a result of turnout differences, since regionalist parties in Eastern Europe are largely dependent upon turnout for a good or poor showing.
Josipović goes into the January 10 runoff with an heavy advantage, piling up the endorsements, including incumbent President Mesić and Vesna Pusić. Bandić will likely continue his anti-SDP populist campaign, but he has limited reserves. Polling indicates that Josipović has 53.5% of voting intentions against 33.7% for Bandić, whose only hope is to pick up more right-wing support.